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Antony Flew's Deism Revisited - Page 4

There Is a God

The second half of the book consists of the long-awaited reasons for Flew's conversion to deism, titled "My Discovery of the Divine." It includes seven chapters on Flew's religious pilgrimage, along with the nature of the universe and life. Two appendices complete the volume.

"A Pilgrimage of Reason" (chapter 4), is the initial contribution to this section. In this essay, Flew chiefly makes the crucial point that his approach to God's existence has been philosophical, not scientific. As he notes, "My critics responded by triumphantly announcing that I had not read a particular paper in a scientific journal or followed a brand-new development relating to abiogenesis." But in so doing, "they missed the whole point." Flew's conversion was due to philosophical arguments, not scientific ones: "To think at this level is to think as a philosopher. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job of philosophers, not of the scientists as scientists" (90).

Thus, if scientists want to get into the fray, they "will have to stand on their own two philosophical feet" (90). Similarly, "a scientist who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case. As Albert Einstein himself said, "?The man of science is a poor philosopher'" (91). Flew ends the chapter by pointing out that it is Aristotle who most exemplifies his search: "I was persuaded above all by the philosopher David Conway's argument for God's existence" drawn from "the God of Aristotle" (92).

The fifth chapter, "Who Wrote the Laws of Nature?" discusses the views of many major scientists, including Einstein and Hawking, along with philosophers like Swinburne and Plantinga, to argue that there is a connection between the laws of nature and the "Mind of God" (103). Flew thinks that this is still a philosophical discussion. As Paul Davies asserted in his Templeton address, "science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview," because, "even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a lawlike order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us" (107). The existence of these laws must be explained. Flew concludes that many contemporary thinkers "propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable" (112).

Chapter 6 ("Did the Universe Know We Were Coming?") discusses fine-tuning arguments and the multiverse option as another angle on the laws of nature. Among the opponents of the multiverse option, Flew lists Davies, Swinburne, and himself, in part because it simply extends the questions of life and nature's laws (119). Regardless, Flew concludes, "So multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origins of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind" (121).

Chapter 7 ("How Did Life Go Live?") continues what Flew insists is a philosophical rather than a scientific discussion of items that are relevant to God's existence. He discusses at least three chief issues: how there can be fully materialistic explanations for the emergence of life, the problem of reproduction at the very beginning, and DNA. Although science has not concluded these matters either, they are answering questions that are different from the philosophical issues that Flew is addressing (129). Flew concludes by agreeing with George Wald that, "The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such ?end-directed, self replicating' life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind" (132).

In the title of chapter 8, Flew asks, "Did Something Come from Nothing?" In spite of our twenty years of friendship, I was still not prepared to see Tony developing and defending a cosmological argument for God's existence! In an essay published back in 1994, Flew had raised questions about David Hume's philosophy and its inability to explain causation or the laws of nature (139). Then, works by philosophers David Conway and Richard Swinburne convinced him that Hume could be answered on the cosmological argument, as well. Buoyed by these refutations of Hume, Flew was now free to explore the relation between a cosmological argument for God's existence and recent discussions regarding the beginning of the universe. Flew concludes that, "Richard Swinburne's cosmological argument provides a very promising explanation, probably the finally right one" (145).

In chapter 9, "Finding Space for God," Flew begins with his long-time objection to God, that a concept of "an incorporeal omnipresent Spirit" is incoherent - something analogous to talking about a "person without a body" (148). But through the 1980s and 1990s, theistic philosophers in the analytic tradition enjoyed a renaissance. Two of these, David Tracy and Brian Leftow (who succeeded Swinburne at Oxford), answered Flew's questions. Flew now concedes that the concept of an omnipresent Spirit outside space and time is not intrinsically incoherent (153 - 4).

In "Open to Omnipotence" (chapter 10), Flew summarizes that his case for God's existence centers on three philosophical items - the origin of the laws of nature, the organization of life, and the origin of life. What about the problem of evil? Flew states that this a separate question, but he had two chief options - an Aristotelian God who does not interfere in the world or the free-will defense. He prefers the former, especially since he thinks the latter relies on special revelation (156).

Closing the main portion of the book with some further shocking comments, Flew states, "I am entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality," including "whether the Divine has revealed itself in human history" (156 - 7). The reason: Everything but the logically impossible is "open to omnipotence" (157).

Further, "As I have said more than once, no other religion enjoys anything like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. If you're wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!" (157; see also 185 - 6). He ends the chapter a few sentences later: "Some claim to have made contact with this Mind. I have not - yet. But who knows what could happen next? Some day I might hear a Voice that says, ?Can you hear me now?'" (158).

Two appendices close the book. The first is an evaluation of the "New Atheism" of writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. The author of the first appendix, Roy Varghese, argues that "five phenomena are evident in our immediate experience that can only be explained in terms of the existence of God" (161). These five are rationality, life, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self, each of which is discussed. Varghese concludes that by arguing from "everyday experience" we are able to "become immediately aware that the world of living, conscious, thinking beings has to originate in a living Source, a Mind" (183).

The second appendix is an essay on the self-revelation of God, written by New Testament theologian N. T. Wright, with brief responses by Flew. Wright argues very succinctly that Jesus existed, was God incarnate, and rose from the dead (187 - 213). Flew precedes this treatment by commenting that though he does not believe the miracle of the resurrection, it "is more impressive than any by the religious competition" (186 - 7). Flew's final reflection on Wright's material is that it is an impressive argument - "absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful." In the end, Flew remains open to divine revelation, since omnipotence could act in such a manner (213).

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