Monday, November 19, 2007

Antony Flew's God

Antony Flew is famous as one of the leading philosophical exponents of atheism. That's why there was so much publicity a few years ago when it was reported that Flew had changed his mind and was now a religious believer.

And yet there is much confusion surrounding Flew's supposed conversion. He is now 84years old, and his mental faculties have slowed with his advanced age. There have been rumors that some evangelical Christians--such as Gary Habermas and Roy Abraham Varghese--have taken advantage of his mental state to manipulate him into professing some kind of religious belief. Now there's an article in the New York Times Magazine by Mark Oppenheimer, who has interviewed Flew at his home in England. Oppenheimer's interviews indicate that Flew cannot remember what is attributed to him in a new book--There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Oppenheimer suggests that this book was actually written by Varghese (who is identified as a co-author of the book)as a way of manipulating Flew into apparently giving up his atheism. If this article is accurate, the Christians manipulating Flew have engaged in some morally despicable behavior.

But if one compares this book with Flew's new Introduction to the 2005 edition of his book God and Philosophy, it is clear that he has undergone some change of mind. But it's a change not from atheism to theism but from atheism to deism. In his Introduction, he suggests that the scientific arguments from nature's order to God as the designer of nature support--at best--a deistic belief in "Aristotle's God" or a Spinozistic "God or Nature." He writes: "Absent revelation to the contrary, the expectations of natural reason must surely be that an omnipotent creator would be as detached and uninvolved as the gods of Epicurus" (p. 13).
In the new book, Flew speaks of his "'conversion' to deism" (p. 1). He reinterates this when he professes to believe in "Aristotle's God" (pp. 92-93).

In this new book, Flew repeats a point that he has made in earlier books, and which I have made in my books: all explanation ultimately depends on some ground that cannot be explained, and this search for the ultimate ground of explanation leads us to a choice between nature and nature's God. Either we take the order of nature as a brute fact that cannot be explained. Or we look beyond or behind nature to God as the source of nature's order. Either nature or God is the uncaused cause of the universe. I have emphasized that Darwinian science leaves us open to this fundamental question without resolving it.

Flew's book explores the arguments for why an uncaused God might be more probable than an uncaused nature. He and Varghese suggest that we need to invoke the existence of God to explain certain phenomena of our immediate experience that point to some cosmic Mind at work. The experiences of rationality, life, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self imply that the ultimate source of nature must be a rational, living, conscious, thinking person that is omnipotent.

Flew is clearly impressed by this kind of argumentation. But it is not evident that this has led him to any kind of theism. It does seem, however, that he agrees with Darwin that "the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us."

Flew seems to agree with me that Darwinian science must be open to this mystery. Moreover, Flew has written a short review of Darwinian Conservatism that endorses my argument. His review can be found here.


Anonymous said...

The experiences of rationality, life, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self imply that the ultimate source of nature must be a rational, living, conscious, thinking person that is omnipotent.

Of course, that argument has precisely the same force as the observation that the fact that water is wet implies that its 'sources' -- hydrogen and oxygen -- must be wet.


Larry Arnhart said...

Well, yes, I agree. I would say that these are all products of emergent evolution. The embryological development and life history of every human being shows this emergence of a living, rational, self-conscious person without any need for a miraculous intervention by God.

Of course, the proponents of the design argument would say that the very capacity of genetic material to develop in this way implies some original Designer.