Antony Flew's Tantalizing Letter
Is he seeing the wisdom in ID?
I have to admit that I don't keep up with the latest spokesmen for atheism--mainly because I don't care who they are or what they say. I have learned a few names such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Steven J. Gould, but I couldn't even begin to tell you the names that may be touted as the latest advocates for non-belief. One of the few names I am familiar with is Antony Flew. Mr. Flew (I don't believe he has a doctorate--only a Masters) has been an outspoken atheist for nearly fifty years. He is the author of such works as Darwinian Evolution, Crime, Punishment and Disease in a Relativistic Universe and Atheistic Humanism. He has debated William Lane Craig about the existence of God (and the debate has been preserved for us in a book entitled Does God Exist?: the Craig-Flew Debate). Certainly, he has to be included in any list of the premiere atheist thinkers.
It appears that around 2000 or 2001 he made some statements that led people to start spreading the rumor that he had converted to atheism. Apparently, the rumor rose to the level of needing Mr. Flew to respond, and he did in an article published on the Secular Web as Sorry to Disappoint, but I'm Still an Atheist! In the article he stated:
Those rumors speak false. I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity.
(Of course, it is a little troubling that he thinks you cannot verify or falsify religion, but he wishes he could falsify it. Seems as if he has a little spiritual issue with which he needs to deal before I would consider him objective.)
Interestingly, Mr. Flew then made a comment about the fine tuning of the universe that suggested that he was leaning towards the idea that intelligent design has legitimacy. Noting that this quote is what probably led the rumors about his conversion to start, he described his comments this way:
We negative atheists are bound to see the Big Bang cosmology as requiring a physical explanation; and that one which, in the nature of the case, may nevertheless be forever inaccessible to human beings. But believers may, equally reasonably, welcome the Big Bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that "in the beginning" the Universe was created by God.
Again, negative atheists meeting the argument that the fundamental constants of physics would seem to have been 'fine tuned' to make the emergence of mankind possible will first object to the application of either the frequency or the propensity theory of probability 'outside' the Universe, and then go on to ask why omnipotence should have been satisfied to produce a Universe in which the origin and rise of the human race was merely possible rather than absolutely inevitable. But believers are equally bound and, on their opposite assumptions, equally justified in seeing the Fine Tuning Argument as providing impressive confirmation of a fundamental belief shared by all the three great systems of revealed theistic religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For all three are agreed that we human beings are members of a special kind of creatures, made in the image of God and for a purpose intended by God.
In short, I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.
Now let me get this straight: Mr. Flew is agreeing that the universe appears fine-tuned, but he says that it is not sufficient to make him believe that there had to be a designer. Okay, I'll accept that even though I think he is already suffering a serious disconnect.
Fast-forward to 2004. Antony Flew writes a letter to Philosophy Now Magazine. Once again, he appears to accept the notion of intelligent design, but this time in the area of genetics and biology. He states:
But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism. (Emphasis added.)
Once again, Mr. Flew seems to suggest that there is a design in the universe that cannot be explained by natural processes. He then recommends two books by believers of Christianity and Judaism. One of the books is Gerald L Schroeder's The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (Touchstone; New York 2001). This book presents a case that the scientific discoveries over the past 50 years have provided extraordinary evidence pointing to the existence of a designer--but not necessarily the God of the Bible. Here is part of the review of Dr. Schroeder's book from Reasons to Believe:
Schroeder's theological perspective--one strongly influenced by the kabala (a form of Jewish mysticism)--prevents The Hidden Face of God from being useful as a Christian apologetic resource. From Schroeder's perspective, just as scientists discover the metaphysical by deeply probing the natural realm, kabalists seek God's hidden face by peeling back layers of hidden meaning in the biblical text. Instead of demonstrating harmony between the Bible and science based on sound and rigorous interpretative methodology, Schroeder makes the integration of science and religion a mystical enterprise.
Does his reference to this pseudo-Christian work mean that Mr. Flew has become, at a minimum, a design advocate? Is he advocating a designer who is not the God of the Bible? Has he become a deist or a pantheist? Has he, by chance, come all the way to the truth of Christianity? Where exactly does Mr. Flew stand? His last paragraph is tantalizing:
Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as "an historical relic". That book was a study of the arguments for Christian theism, first published in 1966 in various editions in both hardcover and paperback in both the USA and the UK. My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also a religious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato's Socrates: "We must follow the argument wherever it leads."
His earlier work an "historical relic"? He will follow the evidence where it leads?
I know where the evidence naturally leads--it naturally leads to a belief in a designer who is very powerful, very intelligent, and very creative. In short, it leads to the God of Christianity (even though ID will never prove that since that is a leap from what ID can prove to the implications of what it does prove). While I doubt that Mr. Flew will agree (especially since his book is going to be published by Prometheus press--the world's most-renowned publisher of openly-atheist thought), I wonder what wonderful mental gymnastics he is going to perform to get around the obvious.