Friday, February 19, 2010

Antony Flew's There Is A God

Antony Flew was a self-admitted leading atheist in the West for decades. His article (done early in his career) on 'theology and falsification' was one of the most sought after articles in the 2nd half of the 20th century. He rejected cosmological arguments for God's existence. Yes, and, at one time he found David Hume's arguments convincing for a closed universe system. Even while growing up as a teenage, he admits feeling in his heart uncomfortable with the Problem of Evil in the world. This was compounded by his childhood teachers and peers having no thoughtful explanations for such a situation (should be a clarion call to the church to answer this question). However, through reading various philosophers later in life, Flew came to believe there were powerful arguments for God's existence and for explaining the so-called 'Problem of Evil.' In the book, Flew provides examples of such argument as the work of Terrence Penelhum that critiques assumptions Hume made which were unproven. As one point states, a "purely Humean story" would not offer meanings of 'cause' and 'law of nature' fitting the picture of reality we deal with ourselves day-to-day. Furthermore, the challenge of genetic messaging in DNA and the additional step of how complex the replicating process is served as a new empirical broadside to his former atheism. Flew asks the question based on a legitimate concern: 'can the origins of a system of coded chemistry be explained in a way that makes no appeal whatever to the kinds of facts that we otherwise invoke to explain codes and languages, systems of communication, the impress of ordinary words on the world of matter?' The existence of such coding is a conundrum as to why the 'mechanism of translation is what it is.' The origins of life are questions as to the origin of such a code and a translation system intact. Processing this knowledge/information in a machine like way with a highly 'precise recipe' raises questions about mindless molecules being able to form such a code and small scale complex factory. Even the symbol processing in the code is a mixture of chemicals that is far from explanable in a random fashion. Flew in his previous days also used to base his "Presumption of Atheism" on the existence of a universe. It is said to be with its laws the 'ultimate' point. But all such systems talk has 'some fundamentals [of assummed truths] that are not themselves explained.' (It is interesting he admits this, which so many people hide or don't realize.) Since the 1980's he says he had doubts about the universe just existing, due to contemporary cosmological consensus. It seems that the big bang theory provided a demanded conclusion: there was a beginning. And others saw the same matter of a beginning as a threat to their secularism or atheism; so that the result was they postulated a 'multiverse, numerous universes generated by endless vacuum fluctuation events, and Stephen Hawking's notion of a self-contained universe.' Their solution was to keep God out. This however creates a problem, contra Ockham, which is that a multiverse goes from a previously simple and better explanation over to a more complex one. And this for no evidential reason, except theoretical disagreement. Even Hawking acknowledges according to Flew that his system does not rule out God. Most cosmologists acknowledge they can't rule out God. But those who posit multiverses often by assumption rule God out. Flew says this secularist or atheist multiverse solution is like a schoolboy whose teacher doesn't believe a dog ate his homework, and as a result he posits the first version with a story that a pack of dogs---too many to count--ate his homework.' Richard Swinburne also argues against an eternal or non-beginning universe, by pointing out that appealing to 'empty space,' a something that is already there, essentially would never have an explanation. It would be 'inexplicable' forever. David Conway adds, per Flew, that a good example is a software virus 'capable of replicating itself on computers connected by a network. The fact that a million computers have been infected by the virus does not itself explain the existence of the self-replicating virus.'

More of the book could be mentioned, but I am more or less wanting to review it here. I highly recommend the book to see what is out there if you are curious as far as other philosophers working against eternal matter conceptions of reality. There are also references to good authorial works on the origin of life. Flew's account is personal and engaging at times and makes one think about how interactions we have with those who aren't theists or Christian theists may have personal doubts they don't mention. Those persons want to hear an answer that is thought out, so we should be prepared to answer in that sense too. Flew in the end rejects the Christian theist view (saving faith in Jesus Christ) due to his not wanting to settle on a certain brand of theism at this point. He entertains an argument for the resurrection by NT Wright and acknowledges that an omnipotent God like he now accepts must be out there, could definatley reveal Himself in the world if He wanted to. However, Flew is non-commital. This goes to show that one can only go so far in worldview without accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, over truth and reality, and Savior, of self admitting humbly our sin and need for His work. A theist is not a born again Christian. While we can be glad for Flew's realizing atheism isn't intellectually satisfying for him, yet we still must admit that he isn't serving Christ as Lord. Many believing Christians make this mistake of confusing theism with Christian theism. There is a difference, and it is whether one personally knows Jesus. However, as far as argumentation goes in thinking through our world and how we might talk about it, Flew's work is useful and interesting reading. It is highly endorsed by a number of relatively solid scholars from around the world as well. Flew does show that he has thought seriously about the position of theism and joined it. One may hope that he will be inclined to accept the Christ who redeems all things too.

While it is not addressed to my memory in the book, the chemical side of DNA and RNA bears more mention. The byproducts of some amino acids being formed into an order is often tar, which destroys productive adaptation. The sea is made of salt, which hampers such positive development of a primitive cell. There are also concerns of the right temperature and pressure for ideal conditions for a cell to form. Having the right and having pure chemicals (like what we get in a clean lab) are required to get even the needed situation. The open nature situation does not give production of a cell for many reasons. A lab is not exactly a fair comparison for the right chemicals being in one place. On top of this, the coding requires information added to the picture on long long lengths of manufacturing in the cell. These are at some point irreducibly complex, where they can't get any more simple without failure or lacking a key part. Thus life could not form on its own. It is not only improbably, but also the environments we see are simply not prone to that situation. And nature doesn't give information. Especially in the limited time the universe and the earth have been around. Yet in the end, this is an issue where a hardened heart will not accept evidence against its view, but will tell a story, a narrative, to explain away a God who convicts people about sin, so that they might see and repent. Something we may add, that most people don't want to do.

1 comment:

David Keuss said...

Flew died recently, and an article on this can be found at :
http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-antony-flew15-2010apr15,0,4059881.story

Sadly, Flew believed only in a creator type God, but had no trust in the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior (to my knowledge).