March 19, 2008

Flew's Flight

2008 1508 page15 capn a previous decade, century, (millennium even),while reading a debate between atheists and theists, I was impressed by the clarity of one atheist’s argument against the existence of God. His brilliant reasoning didn’t bother me, however, because I don’t believe folk come to a knowledge of God through reason (notice, I said knowledge of God, which is a lot different from believing God exists). Nevertheless, awed by his logic, I thought, Who is this guy? I looked at the name. Anthony Flew. Since then, I occasionally saw his work, for Anthony Flew was arguably the premier atheist apologist in the last half of the twentieth century.
Recently while wandering through Borders bookstore, I picked up a book: There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. The author? Anthony Flew.
How did the world’s most notorious atheist change his mind?
Stressing that he always wanted to follow the argument wherever it led, Flew said that his “discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not faith.” Two things in particular helped him reason his way from atheism to theism: the teleological argument (the argument from design) and the cosmological one (the argument from first causes).
2008 1508 page15Regarding the first, he talked about the “monkey theorem,” the idea that a number of the primates battering away on typewriters would, eventually, write a Shakespearean sonnet, an analogy that purports to show that—if given enough time—life could emerge by chance. He wrote about researchers in England who tried something similar: six monkeys in a cage for one month with a computer turned on to a word processing program. After a month of monkeys hammering away on the computer (and using it for a toilet), they produced 50 typed pages, but not even one a or i (that is, the single letter with a blank space on either side). Flew wrote that the odds of getting a sonnet by chance was something like 1:10690, which becomes insanely improbable considering that the number of particles in the known universe (that’s particles now, protons, neutrons, et al.) is a mere 1080. Odds like this convinced the world’s most notorious atheist that a “Divine Mind,” not chance, created us.
Regarding the argument from first cause, Flew for years had accepted the universe itself as a given, a “brute fact,” something ultimate and thus beyond any explication (kind of like our view of God). The universe always existed and hence didn’t need an explanation; it just always was. However, big bang cosmogony, which teaches that the universe once wasn’t, forced Flew to confront the question: How did the big bang get started? Once accepting that the universe was created, Flew conceded the obvious: it needed a Creator, One powerful enough to have put it together and spread it over nothing. And who else could that be except God or, in his parlance, a “Divine Mind”?
Logic and reason, though, have taken Flew only so far. Belief in a “Divine Mind” isn’t the same as a “born again” experience with Jesus. But Flew is getting close. Toward the end of There Is a God, writing about how he was led to belief in an “infinitely intelligent mind,” he wrote: “Some claim to have made contact with that Mind. I have not—yet. But who knows what could happen next? Someday I might hear a Voice that says, ‘Can you hear Me now?’”
He’s talking, of course, about special revelation, when God reveals to us truths that logic, reason, and nature can’t; truths too important for us to try to figure out on our own.
I would love to challenge him to take his logic one step further, though. Mr. Flew, would it not seem logical and reasonable that this Divine Mind, so powerful and infinite, would in fact reveal Himself to us?
The Holy Spirit is working, for the former atheist wrote, too: “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!”
Let’s pray for Anthony Flew. The “world’s most notorious atheist has come so far”; almost there, even.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He is also featured on the Hope Channel program CLIFF!