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Intelligent Design and Antony Flew

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." ~ABC News

Hat tip to Brent Anderson (Reflections from Red Hill).

ID enthusiasts can take some small comfort that the argument-from-causation and argument-from-complexity have convinced a famous opponent that God must exist. Nonetheless, believing in God as First Cause does not imply any real belief. It is an acceptance of what appears to be logically necessary to account for the evidence. Logic may lead us to understanding of what we believe, and it may lead us to belief, but accepting the existence of a First Cause as a matter of logic is a world away from faith, which is precisely confidence in things unseen. The argument-from-complexity, while attractive to those of us who already believe, is not necessarily compelling to an atheist--it is reasonable for a physicist to believe in a highly complex system without accepting that it has been designed by anyone.

But Prof. Flew is living proof that, whatever Intelligent Design theory is worth (and I don't think it's worth very much if we're speaking of it as a scientific theory and not as a philosophical argument), ID theory is potentially quite pernicious if it functions as a sort of intellectually respectable way to believe in the existence of God, minus the supposed "Oriental Despotism" of the Living God. Much like its cousin Deism, it conceives of God as operating through natural laws to such an extent that all one would see is the traces and never the Author. In fairness, Flew is not openly espousing ID, though he does note similarities between his view and ID theory. Nonetheless, the dangers of both are very similar.

Both set up an alternative theology, if you like, that allows people to acknowledge that, yes, God apparently does exist, but it need not have any real impact on what we are doing here on earth. It may well put religious indifference and a sort of functional atheism on a more solid philosophical footing. Perhaps Prof. Flew ought to conclude that, if God exists, there is a chance that He has revealed Himself in a more direct fashion, but there is nothing inherent in causality or complexity that compels him to believe that God is self-revealing. That is an understanding that comes, understandably enough, only from Scripture.

Daniel Larison | November 15, 2005


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