by Denyse O'Leary
Perhaps sensing the final curtain, Flew wants to get straight what Albert Einstein really thought about religion. One senses his annoyance with (former) fellow atheist Richard Dawkins for treating Einstein as an atheist in The God Delusion.
Dawkins ignores Einstein's categorical statement [in Jammer's Einstein and Religion] that he was neither an atheist nor a pantheist. This is puzzling because Dawkins cites Jammer on occasion, but leaves out numerous statements by Jammer and Einstein that are fatal to his own case. (pp. 99-100)
While Einstein is often associated with the philosopher Spinoza, for whom God and nature were synonymous, Flew points out that Einstein knew little of Spinoza's work and admitted as much (p. 98). True, he did not believe in a personal God and displayed little interest in organized religion, but he did think that the pursuit of science leads to the recognition of a "superior mind", and "illimitable superior spirit", or "superior reasoning force" (p. 101). And that is certainly enough to remove Einstein from the catalogue of celebrated materialist atheists.
Perhaps Flew, being of an older generation, does not clearly grasp that the new atheists are embarked on an entirely different project from the old atheists. The old atheists wanted to prove that God does not exist using airtight intellectual methods. That would nail their case, at least to themselves. Indeed, otherwise, they would not think that they had made their case, even if others did think so, and became their devotees.
The new atheists want to ban religious education or declare intelligent design theory to be a threat to human rights. Free from having to take evidence into account, they need not worry about making a proper case. They can assert just-so stories about how spiritual beliefs may have aided the survival of the early hominid, or else they unduly vexed him, or else they made no difference at all .... whatever ...
One could say much in praise of Flew. Not least that he is willing to reconsider views that were highly respected for decades - a rare thing in an old and much celebrated man. After all, it is one thing for a man to reconsider his views if they have brought him to a homeless shelter or an emergency room; it is another to reconsider them when they have brought him scholarly renown and many book contracts. Flew, so far as I can determine, acted of his own free will in setting all that aside and braving a storm of fashionable detraction. In the end, he is one of those rare souls who are serious about following the argument wherever it leads.
Note: For stylistic reasons, it would be convenient to say that Flew has ceased to be an a-theist and become a theist. But that is not quite accurate. He is what philosophers call a deist - he believes that the final cause of the universe is a mind (Mind?). The deist's God is sometimes called the God of the Philosophers. Theists usually also believe that the mind that is the final cause of the universe can interact with human minds. (Note inserted January 2, 2008.)
Return to top: Antony Flew, God, and the Evidence: A review of There IS a God
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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