by Denyse O'Leary
Flew, of course, had to deal with Richard Dawkins, a foremost exponent of the new atheist movement, who did not take his altered views lightly. It didn't help that Flew regarded Dawkins's landmark work, The Selfish Gene, as "a major exercise in popular mystification." He observes, as has philosopher Mary Midgley,
Genes ... 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. (P. 80)
Flew, one begins to realize, is an old-fashioned thinker who assumes at the outset the possibility of the moral life as a distinct human quality. He is not seeking to ground it in the squabbles of ancestral primates or the mindless hum of genes - let alone demonstrate that it doesn't exist. In other words, an old-fashioned atheist like Flew thought that you could be moral without God. Many new atheists think that there is no "you" and there is no "moral", never mind that there is no "God."
It must have been such a relief to Flew to just walk away from all that. As to what he does believe now, he says,
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. (p. 88)
He had, in fact, been moving in this direction for two decades, so he does not experience it as a "paradigm shift" (p. 89) but a gradual realization that the evidence from science of design in the universe favours the idea that mind precedes matter, and not the other way around.
In the midst of the squabble between theists and atheists over the hot intellectual property he represents, Flew insists that he has NOT had a Billy Graham-style religious experience:
I must stress that my discovery of the Divine has proceeded on a purely natural level, without any reference to supernatural phenomena. It has been an exercise in what is traditionally called natural theology. It has had no connection with any of the revealed religions. Nor do I claim to have had any personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or miraculous. In short, my discovery of the Divine has been pilgrimage of reason and not of faith (p. 93).
None of this should be a surprise. Prior to the rise of atheistic materialism, recognition of design in the universe was not thought to be in the same category as the claims of revealed religions that God appeared to someone and told them something that they could not have learned from the study of nature. Philosophers who professed no interest in revealed religion assumed that design is a part of our universe. Today, when design is denied or minimized, increasingly bizarre theories - such as string theory or infinitely many universes - are advanced to keep the evidence of design at bay.
On the argument to design, Flew says, "Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God." He is thinking particularly of the laws of nature and of the insights of eminent scientists. And, while he cites a number of such scientists, he is particularly concerned to correct the record regarding one of them, Albert Einstein.
Next: Part Four: Einstein's God and Antony Flew
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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