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Antony Flew — Still with his head in the game!

A friend of mine and I have been reading Antony Flew’s new book THERE IS A GOD. Flew had been the English-speaking world’s most prominent atheist until Richard Dawkins assumed that role. A few years ago, Flew announced his conversion to theism (though not full-blown Christianity). This caused a stir at the time, but true to their materialist bias, the academy and media quickly fluffed it off (“poor Antony — he’s just getting old and a bit soft in the head”). As the following excerpts (that my friend collected) attest, Flew knew exactly what he was doing in rejecting his lifelong commitment to atheism. Also, a refreshing feature of the book is Flew’s evident grace, good will, and sensitivity — the contrast with the boorishness of neo-atheists like Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris is stark.

>From p. 79 ff:

“For Dawkins, the main means for producing human behavior is to
attribute to genes characteristics that can significantly be
attributed only to humans. Then, after insisting that we are all the
choiceless creatures of our genes, he infers that we cannot help but
share the unlovely personal characteristics of those all-controlling
monads.

“Genes, of course, can be neither selfish nor unselfish any more than
they or any other nonconscious entities can engage in competition or
make selections. (Natural selection is, notoriously, not selection;
and it is a somewhat less familiar logical fact that, below the human
level, the struggle for existence is not “competetive” in the true
sense of the word.) But this did not stop Dawkins from proclaiming
that his book ‘is not science fiction; it is science …. We are
survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the
selfish molecules known as genes.’ Although he later issued occasional
disavowals, Dawkins gave no warning in his book against taking him
literally. He added, sensationally, that ‘the argument of this book
is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes’

“If any of this were true, it would be no use to go on, as Dawkins
does, to preach: ‘Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because
we are born selfish.’ No eloquence can move programmed robots. But in
fact none of it is true — or even faintly sensible. Genes, as we have
seen, do not and cannot necessitate our conduct. Nor are they capable
of the calculation and understanding required to plot a course of
either ruthless selfishness or sacrificial compassion.”

>From p. 85 ff:

“Let us begin with a parable. Imagine that a satellie phone is washed
ashore on a remote island inhabited by a tribe that has never had
contact with modern civilization. The natives play with the numbers on
the dial pad and hear different voices upon hitting certain sequences.
They assume first that it’s the device that makes these noises. Some
of the cleverer natives, the scientists of the tribe, assemble an
exact replica and hit the numbers again. They hear the voices again.
The conclusion seems obvious to them. This particular combination of
crystals and metals and chemicals produces what seems like human
voices, and this means that the voices are simply properties of this
device.

“But the tribal sage summons the scientists for a discussion. He has
thought long and hard on the matter and has reached the following
conclusion: the voices coming through the instrument must be coming
from people like themselves, people who are living and conscious
although speaking in another language. Instead of assuming that the
voices are simply properties of the handset, they should investigate
the possibility that through some mysterious communication network
they are ‘in touch’ with other humans. Perhaps further study along
these lines could lead to a greater understanding of the world beyond
their island. But the scientists simply laugh at the sage and say,
‘Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop coming. So
they’re obviously nothing more than sounds produced by a unique
combinatino of lithium and printed circuit boards and light-emitting
diodes.

“In this parable we see how easy it is to let preconceived theories
shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape
our theories…. And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar
danger, the endemic evil, of dogmatic atheism. Take such utterances as
‘We should not ask for an explanation of how it is that the world
exists; it is here and that’s all’ or “Since we cannot accept a
transcendent source of life, we choose to believe the impossible: that
life arose spontaneously by chance from matter’ or ‘The laws of
physics are “lawless laws” that arise from the void — end of
discussion.’ They look at first sight like rational arguments that
have a special authority because they have a no-nonsense air about
them. Of course, this is no more sign that they are either rational or
arguments….

“… I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central
question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute
for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior
Mind?

Moving on now from the parable, it’s time for me to lay my cards on
the table, to set out my own views and the reasons that support them.
I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an
infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws
manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that
life and reproduction originate in a divine Source.

Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for
more than half a century? The short answer is this: this is the world
picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science. Science
spotlights three dimensions that point to God. The first is the fact
that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of
intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from
matter. The third is the very existence of nature. But it is not this
alone that has guided me. I have also been helped by a renewed study
of the classical philosophical arguments.”

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20 Responses to Antony Flew — Still with his head in the game!

  1. So much for the new-atheist thesis that modern science can or will destroy belief in God — that science has put God out of a job.

    It is doing precisely the opposite.

  2. Atheists like to say that believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. How many people do you know who started believing in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy after more than half a century of sustained reflection on the matter?

  3. More quotes please. This stuff is ammo against a lot of people I know :-)

    This is going 2 b fun :-)

  4. Super stuff!!! I love it! I got a kick out of the negative review given by “Benjamin L. Harville” on Amazon. Sure enough, he states that Flew “…doesn’t grasp evolution” LOL! Yeah, “evolution” is soooo difficult to grasp, especially by someone like Flew. Typical canned response from an anti-IDist. Anyway, I think I’ll be purchasing Flew’s book very soon.

  5. This is just wonderful! I had no chance to get my hands on a copy.

    I am currently discussing what I like to call the “post-naturalist era” with some of my country men in Afrikaans. Antony Flew is just the man to get the message across!

  6. Anyone who can come up with a parable about the phone and natives on a island like that,,,is definitely not soft in the head!!!!

    Now if he will look at the evidence of the Shroud, he may actually come full circle to believing God actually came to earth!

  7. I think the parable about the phone and the natives is not new… I’ve read it before (though maybe from Flew??). It’s a great point though, and very well presented.

  8. 8

    Sounds to me like he must have also read A. E. Wilder-Smith whose book “He Who Thinks Has to Believe” has a similar parable about isolated natives finding advanced technology, etc.

  9. Dawkins:
    “We are survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”

    Dawkins simply does not have enough imagination. Doesn’t he see that genes are simply robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as proteins? That proteins are simply robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as amino acids? That amino acids are …

    He just doesn’t have the ability to see it’s selfish all the way down to the quark. And that is not science fiction; it is science!

  10. Regarding Shaner74′s comment in post 4:

    What I find remarkable is that if you don’t believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, and the associated materialistic world view, it must be because you don’t understand it, and have never become educated in it.

    What rubish. Flew understands it. I understand it too. I was fed the materialist world view my whole life, because I’ve only gone to public schools. Can’t the materialist find a new mantra.

  11. In re: 10

    One should also take into account those who accept the theory of evolution but who don’t really understand it.

    I don’t have any statistics on this, but I know that studies have been done which show that people who claim to believe that evolution is true may nevertheless have false beliefs about the content of the theory.

    Thanks, public school system!

  12. Carl is right in comment 11. I recall seeing studies that show that many (perhaps even most?) of the people who believe in evolution believe that God helped it over the humps, which is, of course, the very thing evolution is intended to disprove.

  13. I’m not sure if evolution is “intended to disprove” anything one way or the other about God’s involvement in creation. I think of Darwinism as “theologically neutral,” as it were. Apparently that’s not a widely-held opinion around here.

  14. lars (7): “I think the parable about the phone and the natives is not new… I’ve read it before (though maybe from Flew??).”

    See:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....llpho.html
    In light of publishing schedules, Flew almost certainly had the idea before Egnor.

  15. Imagine entering a hotel room on your next vacation. The CD player on the bedside table is softly playing a track from your favorite recording. The framed print over the bed is identical to the image that hangs over the fireplace at home. The room is scented with your favorite fragrance…You step over to the minibar, open the door, and stare in wonder at the contents. Your favorite beverage. Your favorite cookies and candy. Even the brand of bottled water you prefer…You notice the book on the desk: it’s the latest volume by your favorite author…

    Chances are, with each new discovery about your hospitable new environment, you would be less inclined to think it has all a mere coincidence, right? You might wonder how the hotel managers acquired such detailed information about you. You might marvel at their meticulous preparation. You might even double-check what all this is going to cost you. But you would certainly be inclined to believe that someone knew you were coming. ~ Antony Flew

  16. There’s a lot of levity in this thread, but do read Antony Flew’s new book. Read it slowly and carefully. I just finished it today. There’s some honest philosophical writing there that we don’t encounter much today.

    The two appendices, one by Bishop N. T. Wright of the Anglican Church, are worth the price of the book alone.

  17. Carl writes: “I’m not sure if evolution is “intended to disprove” anything one way or the other about God’s involvement in creation. I think of Darwinism as “theologically neutral,” as it were.”

    Your statement is both ahistorical and defies common sense.

    Darwin’s entire project was to account for creation without a creator.

    How can you say this after Dawkins’ intellectually fulfilled atheist comment?

  18. I’ve been reading Flew’s book as well. True, he’s not impressed with the “New Atheism” in the least. The history of his philosophical journey is interesting as well.

    DrDan wrote:

    “What I find remarkable is that if you don’t believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, and the associated materialistic world view, it must be because you don’t understand it, and have never become educated in it.

    What rubish. Flew understands it. I understand it too. I was fed the materialist world view my whole life, because I’ve only gone to public schools. Can’t the materialist find a new mantra.”

    No, they will never find a new mantra. This accusation is all they have left. Unfortunately for them, this accusation is quickly falling to the wayside as so many scientists, themselves, are seriously questioning the theory.

    It’s more than a tad ridiculous to suggest that only those who adhere to the theory understand it!

  19. This looks like an absolutely fascinating book.

  20. […] Antony Flew — Still with his head in the game! […]

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