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Leading Atheist Concludes, "There Is A God"

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 he says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting that belief is a mistake, the professor, 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.

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?"

Me thinks someone is going to be persona non grata at atheist conferences...


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Comments (29)

God at work, even on Atheis... (Below threshold)
epador:

God at work, even on Atheists.

This is what happened to CS... (Below threshold)
MunDane:

This is what happened to CS Lewis too.

..."has shown, by the almos... (Below threshold)
FormerHostage:

..."has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says.

"Oh, and, at age 81, the realization of my own mortality," he added.

Romans 1:20... (Below threshold)
Jon:

Romans 1:20

Romans 1:20 sums it up perf... (Below threshold)
DBub:

Romans 1:20 sums it up perfectly:

From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. (NLT)

this is nothing like what h... (Below threshold)
tee bee:

this is nothing like what happened to CS Lewis: he went from non-believer to believer. this guy still believes in no after-life and no relationship between designer and designed, so no points there.

the scientific community is and has been divided, and will continue to be. those who cannot brook anything that includes a designer still have a lock on education, and it would take a thousand Flews (and they'd all have to be scientists, not philosophers) for there to be balanced, rational debate.

hubrous rules the disciplines - people want answers; they cannot bear a dearth of answers, even to questions that border on the ludicrous to presume we could answer, especially in so short a period of enquiry. and so we promote those who claim to have answers. then we ensconce them and rail against them being challenged, smearing those who question or disagree as biased or ignorant, or both. such as the Romans 1:20 quote above: observation and conclusion here don't count because they come to the wrong conclusion, whereas "correct" scientists begin by separating out any chance of God or design, making any observation and conclusion somehow pure and correct (even though they've begun with the bias that removes one or more possibilities).

which does nothing to encourage reasonable discourse and enquiry, or advance the sciences. unlike your willingness to post the controversial. interesting.

Some sort of intelligence o... (Below threshold)
Squall:

Some sort of intelligence or "first cause"? Sounds vaguely familiar, don't you think?

Weren't belief and faith two things that couldn't be juxtapositioned together?

^ Eh, excuse me, science an... (Below threshold)
Squall:

^ Eh, excuse me, science and faith...not belief and faith.

Intelligent design doesn't ... (Below threshold)

Intelligent design doesn't require faith or any particualr religious beliefs. It just requires a conclusion that the staggeringly complex relationship bewteen all living things, and within the fabric of organisms, DNA in particular, is not the result of random chance.

Flew just bought himself so... (Below threshold)
Jim:

Flew just bought himself some "hell insurance."

Josh McDowell famously came... (Below threshold)

Josh McDowell famously came to a similar conclusion.

The Drake eqation gets more and more unlikely the more we learn about astrophysics.

I'm a confirmed Catholic, y... (Below threshold)
Henry:

I'm a confirmed Catholic, yet I still believe that the evolutionary process happened. I just believe that God is the one who made it happen. God is the one who created the rules for the universe, and now God is allowing us to study and understand the rules that God created.

I'm weird. I'm a confirmed Catholic, yet I also think sometimes that where we are now IS purgatory. It sort of explains it all doesn't it? Its a mixed re-incarnation/purgatory/christian/buddhist thought process. That we are stuck here being reborn until we finally realize what is the truth and choose to become one with God.

I still believe in intelligent design, I just don't think that he personally got involved in every little thing. He made the rules and let it flow (but I do think that life itself probably got "sparked" somehow, how else to explain various bits of atoms banding together to form what we call "life").

Silly old bugger. I think t... (Below threshold)
David Gillies:

Silly old bugger. I think the 'impending mortality' argument is definitely the underlying cause of this mysterious conversion. And he's not much use as a philosophy professo, is he? By which I mean: tell us, Prof, if the complexity of Life, the Universe and Everything requires an intelligent designer, then who designed the frickin' designer? The dirty little secret of theism is that no-one has ever been able to give a satisfactory answer to the six-year-old's question: "so if God made everything, then who made God?" Invoking complexity alone as a requirement for a designer is such a jejune stance that I'm almost embarrassed for the poor guy. I think Dawkins calls it the Argument from Personal Incredulity.

Intelligent design is neither explicatory or epistemologically sound. And it fersure ain't a scientific theory as it is not falsifiable.

David,Sure it's fa... (Below threshold)

David,

Sure it's falsifiable. Just show that the complexity is not irreducibly complex, or find a way to make the math work. A theory which depends on improbable events, like natural selection, naturally falls prey to the problem that the improbable events are too improbable.

Do something that's never been done. Make the math work for natural selection.

Yours,
Wince

This is just an old guy try... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

This is just an old guy trying to get into Heaven.

SteveL - You have it exactl... (Below threshold)
max:

SteveL - You have it exactly right. However, many intelligent design opponents insist that to believe in intelligent design is to be a religious fundamentalist.

I could add to your list blood clotting, eyesight and others - not of course as complicated as DNA, but they could not have come into existence through natural selection or evolution.

And as Henry points out, a person can believe in evolution and still be a believer in traditional religion since evolution/natural selection do not explain the very existence of life itself.

One other comment - 'evolution' does occur at the species level through genetic drift if nothing else.

I highly recommend any books by William Demski, Michael Behe and Michael Denton (among others) to anyone who is interested in reading about intelligent design.

Max
.

As usual David Gillies is t... (Below threshold)

As usual David Gillies is the voice of reason here.
Wince? The math and statistical argument doesn’t work. The probability of us being here is one as we are here. Taht probability remains the same whether it was all created 8,000 years ago or 15 billion.
Max. Eyesight is an often used example of why there must have been a designer as what use is half an eye? It’s also the most thoroughly debunked argument around. Just being able to detect light would be helpful to a creature. We also know that sight developed independently at least twice...an octopus uses a completely different system , a better one, than mammals.
I have no personal objection to someone believing in intelligent design, as long as there is also the admission that the designer made it look as if evolution is correct.

I've read some of Flew's wo... (Below threshold)

I've read some of Flew's works. He's a clear-headed thinker and I'm a bit surprised that an argument that hasn't convinced him for decades suddenly holds water for him.

As others, I suspect his mortality is a factor.

Thanks Tim W. Actually eyes... (Below threshold)
David Gillies:

Thanks Tim W. Actually eyesight has evolved independently something like 40 times. Some simulations with pretty pessimistic assumptions about how eyes evolve found that you could go from a patch of light-sensitive skin to a 'camera' eye like ours or an octopus's in a time short enough to barely register in the fossil record (and the case for an 'intelligent' designer isn't helped by the fact that our retinas are back-to-front). Likewise blood clotting. There's an extremely plausible chain of evolutionary steps that lead to the modern mechanism, which is adduced, in part, by study of pseudogenes in cladistically close organisms such as chimpanzees. I've read Behe's book. It was such a congeries of fatuity that I found it hard to finish.

ID isn't falsifiable from a Popperian standpoint if you have to keep knocking down its so-called evidence one case at a time. There's no 'big-bang' piece of evidence that would refute it. The same is not true for the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Find an anatomically modern human skeleton in a rock layer from the Triassic and Natural Selection goes out the window. ID does not require religious belief per se, but it is interesting to note that the proportion of believers, from deists all the way up to Bible-believing Christians, is quite a bit higher than among proponents of traditional evolutionary biology. I think the best gloss that can be put on ID is that it's tautological, in the who-designed-the-designer sense (you can't just posit a necessarily-complex primum mobile in an attempt to explain complexity, which should be obvious). But really I suspect the reasoning goes something like this: "here is a very complex biological system. I am an extremely intelligent individual, and I can't work out how this system came to be via natural selection. Ergo, it must have been designed." As soon as conventional biology comes up with a plausible explanation of how this system is consistent with natural selection (which is all it needs to do to refute this particular instance), the ID adherents retreat to another system and say, "OK, you got us on that one, but what about this?" That's not science, at least in any form that I recognise. It's an attempt to sneak Creationism in by the back door. At least Henry Morris and his ilk are a bit more up-front about it.

As an aside, I've found over the years that no topic is more guaranteed to spark a lengthy tit-for-tat comments session than talk of evolution. Everyone thinks he's an expert. Strange that discussion of superstring theory doesn't generate the same level of controversy.

Maybe he's hedging his bets... (Below threshold)
profligatewaste:

Maybe he's hedging his bets in case there's not enough time for a death-bed convervsion.

The idea that intelligent d... (Below threshold)

The idea that intelligent design and evolution are inherently contradictory is somewhat simpleminded. God could just as easily have created a Universe in which evolution was likely.

The weak anthropic principle says the observed Universe must able to develop intelligent life, because we're here in it. But it doesn’t really say anything about how or why such a universe exists. And with the increasing amount of evidence against the Steady State and Multiverse hypotheses and the rising evidence for a singular Universe, along with a smaller and smaller likelihood of intelligent life from Drake’s equation, the evidence tends more and more to require a God to design it that way. Since we know from particle physics that the physical Universe as it exists rests on a lot of exquisitely finely-tuned parameters (in the other scenarios, an essentially infinite number of Universes, possibly each with different physical laws, would eventually result in the parameters necessary for intelligent life). Brian Greene went into several of these parameters in his books.

Under superstring/M Theory, these parameters may be shown to have evolved as inevitable expressions of mathematical principles based on viewing the fundamental constituents of matter as one-dimensional strings or multi-dimensional membranes, vibrating in ten-dimensional space. Some might argue this is evidence against a God, but others have called mathematics “the mind of God” and might see it more as a validation of His existence. Ultimately, I think God has ensured faith will always be a matter of free will.

Damn typos. Let me try aga... (Below threshold)

Damn typos. Let me try again.

The idea that intelligent design and evolution are inherently contradictory is somewhat simpleminded. God could just as easily have created a Universe in which evolution was likely.

The weak anthropic principle says the observed Universe must able to develop intelligent life, because we're here in it. But it doesn’t really say anything about how or why such a universe exists. And with the increasing amount of evidence against the Steady State and Multiverse hypotheses and the rising evidence for a singular Universe, along with a smaller and smaller likelihood of intelligent life from Drake’s equation, the evidence tends more and more to require a God to design it that way since we know from particle physics that the physical Universe as it exists rests on a lot of exquisitely finely-tuned parameters (in the other scenarios, an essentially infinite number of Universes, possibly each with different physical laws, would eventually result in the parameters necessary for intelligent life),. Brian Greene went into several of these parameters in his books.

Under superstring/M Theory, these parameters may be shown to have evolved as inevitable expressions of mathematical principles based on viewing the fundamental constituents of matter as one-dimensional strings or multi-dimensional membranes, vibrating in ten-dimensional space. Some might argue this is evidence against a God, but others have called mathematics “the mind of God” and might see it more as a validation of His existence.

David Gillies, you're a pri... (Below threshold)
Henry:

David Gillies, you're a prime example of your own hubris.

the point that we're arguing has NOTHING to do with how we evolved.

What we're bringing forth is how life got sparked in the first place. Can you explain how various atoms formed together to form the first piece of "life"?
Please?

Was it a byproduct of some random chemical reaction? or was it intelligent design?

We all can agree that life evolved as our scientists have studied, and survival of the fittest doesnt' always work either. Humans were NOT the "biggest, baddest" creatures of them all. But one thing that helped us was our ability to band together, use tools and WORK together to drive away enemies. (hence the age-old mammoth hunt stories, a group of humans being able to work together to bring down a wooly mammoth, even wiping the mammoth completely out of existence).

Please stop trying to put forth "evolution" because just about everyone here can agree that evolution took place. However, I am putting forth the hypothesis that the laws of science (as we call them) were created by God to affect this big blue/green ball of ours as it evolved from nothing 4.2 billion years ago.


There's this one joke I remember hearing
One day, a man prayed to be able to talk to God, and God responded. The man asked, "God, how long is a million years to you?" God replied, "A million of your years is about a second to me." The man asked again, "well how about 1 million dollars?" God replied again, "1 million of your dollars is about a penny to me." The man, thinking to outwit God, asked "Would you mind lending me a penny?" God replied, "sure, just wait a second."

Henry, that's not a hypothe... (Below threshold)

Henry, that's not a hypothesis, that's religion.

Oh, and Wince? It's best to know something about evolution before you try to attack it. And you don't.

Pixy Misa, there is nothing... (Below threshold)
Henry:

Pixy Misa, there is nothing wrong with me calling it a hypothesis, I haven't researched, or backed it up with evidence or anything to the contrary. Its just a hypothesis. Technically, all religions are hypothesis as to why we are here (or at least how we got here).

But you never read my post. I wasn't spouting religious dogma, I wanted a discussion on how LIFE ORIGINATED in the first place. AGAIN we understand the evolutional theory is most plausible (how the actual evolution took place, such as natural seleciton, collaboration among species to survive, etc..., is also under discussion), BUT my question to "Natural" theorists, is why they keep steering the subject towards their little evolution theory. WE KNOW THAT ALREADY. Please ANSWER my question. When life first originated, how did it come to be?

Was life a random byproduct of a chemical reaction?

or

Was there some thing else that "sparked" life?

Besides, Wince wasn't attac... (Below threshold)
Henry:

Besides, Wince wasn't attacking evolutional theory, he wanted to see if math could prove evolution where discussion and the so-called "scientific process" couldn't.

Of course mathermatics can'... (Below threshold)
David Gillies:

Of course mathermatics can't 'prove' evolution. That's not even a meaningful question to ask. The proof that every number has a unique factorisation is different in its nature from the proof that planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one focus. But evolution has been 'proved' to the extent that no serious practitioner doubts it. It's about as sound, from a scientific standpoint, as any theory ever. It's on the same sort of footing as QED or statistical mechanics.

As for abiogenesis and specious attempts by the ill-informed to use misunderstood statistics to 'prove' that life could not have spontaneously arisen: booooring. Arguments like that merely serve to highlight the attacker's ignorance. Anyone still cleaving to the old 'life is too improbable' line is either so stupid or so ill-informed as to make further conversation otiose.

I'm always amazed at the au... (Below threshold)
-S-:

I'm always amazed at the audacity of some human minds, in that their positions from a mere mortal set of neurons and other cells explains to them these grandiose absolutes and such: "there is no God," and similar. All that from a mortal brain, as if the hugeness of God could be figured out by a human being through mortality, vanity and egoism.

Not to fault the intellectual capacities of some, granted, but, really and truly, us humans haven't yet even managed to overcome or manage many aspects that we know to be possible, much less those that we have not yet perceived to be possible, such that, could we honestly and truly really ever understand how God brought about what He has and is bringing? And will? It's as if the grain of sand that is the human mind sometimes really does believe it's the planet Mars and everything else is meaningless, just because.

There is so much we cannot know or comprehend. More reason why there's the need for the Divine, the consequences of God. Last time I checked, mankind still hasn't figured out how to make a mackeral.

There was a god. Rather, i... (Below threshold)

There was a god. Rather, in the Tanakh(Old Testament), there are these names for God, in order of number of appearances: Yahweh, Elohim, El, Eloah, Elah.

And El refers to a person, who 70 sons were called Elohim.

Well, that's what I heard, from someone who would know better than any of you.




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