Here’s a fascinating interview (via The Corner) between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew, on Flew’s conversion from Atheism to Theism. There’s a lot I disagree with Flew about, particularly his dismissal of the moral argument, which I strongly believe to be the best argument for the existence of God. But check this out about the teleological argument:
” HABERMAS: So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?
FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.
I bet Rusty will enjoy that.
13 thoughts on “From Atheist to Theist”
This is brad from 21st Century Reformation. I love this story of Flew. I think it is geting a lot of play. Just this morning a deacon came into my office to tell me about it. Great stuff. I am going to post on this too. I will give you a link.
I also listened to a bit of your sermons. I hope to listen to more but I gotta go. I am planning on linking some sermons at my page too 🙂 if it all works out.
To be accurate Flew is mulling over deism, not theism. deism is the idea that the universe was created, but that the creator[s] didn’t have humans in mind or even care. Flew in fact states this along with his other opinions as the way he is leaning. Deism is a very long way from theism and even longer still from a specific version therein. If you’re going to give Flew’s views weight, then you need to be consistent. If he’s right, then he’s right, and that would make you wrong if you’re a thiest of any kind.
More to the point though, why should Flew’s recent deistic doubts have any more weight than his past theistic doubts? Why should Flew’s speculations have any more weight than Dawkins’ speculations? Or why should either of their opinins carry any more weight than yours, or mine, or the high school kid who delivers pizza if none of us have any empirical evidence which can be tested?
[BTW the word out is that Flew is engaging in a little promotion for his upcoming book release. It pays to be cynical ;)]
So I have to believe everything he said, or nothing? That’s kind of ridiculous. I never said Flew’s expression of his opinion about the teleological argument was absolutely conclusive, or proof of anything. I just said I found it fascinating. You sound a little defensive, like someone who realizes how untenable your position is, and are just scared to admit it.
Nitpicking the “theism vs. deism” thing is kind of silly as well. Habermas, in the interview, makes repeated reference to Flew’s “theism” with no objection from Flew. Deism is just one kind of theism, if one understands theism broadly as the belief in some kind of supreme being.
Hi Matt. Yes, I do enjoy seeing a former atheist start facing common sense. While there are many steps from deism to theism (and then to Christianity), the point of the matter is that the “a” of atheism is conspicuously absent from the mix. BTW, to conclude that deism does not allow for the supreme being to have had us in mind or even care about us presupposes to know the mind of the supreme being (that which the deist claims to have no way of knowing). This leaves the deist in the sticky predicament of justifying his belief in a being that “started it all,” for how can a deist use empirical evidence to justify belief in a deity which, by definition, provides no revelation? If the evidence indicates design, then did we unexpectedly crack a secret code or did we, as expected, unlock a complex code?
What’s interesting is to see the various spins applied to Flew’s comments from the skeptics at large. It seems that as long as Flew is a diehard atheist then his speculations are admissible. But as soon as he hints betrayal, then his thoughts become mere opinion on par with the pizza guy. It would be fun to see the same rules applied across the board to various skeptic forums in cyberspace.
So I have to believe everything he said, or nothing?Not at all. And in fact I encourage you to be very skeptical of any claims from any authority on matters the ycannot back with empirical evidence. My point is that while I’m happy if your faith provides you some measure of comfort, Flew’s opinions are no more relevent than Dawkins to the valdity of the underlying magical beings in that faith, and no more relevent than his past opinions. But if you’re going to ignore that, and as Rusty says, come about to face ‘common sense’, then you are implying that Flew’s potential acceptance of deism carries merit. His view is that theistic Gods who care about humans are fantasy, so using his opinion as any kind of evidence to prop up your own mythology not only lacks empirical underpinning, it doesn’t, in fact, prop up your mythology. Rather it directly contradicts the most critical tenets therein.
Thus he is either wrong, and corroloary to that his opinion is merely a guess, which deals your own attempts to paint his change of heart as supportive of your faith a fatal blow. Or, he is right, and his opinion matters, in which case you are wrong which means the mythical being[s] you worship do not exist. The latter would not apply if he accepted Theism instead of deism.
I agree with Rusty BTW, as a die hard atheist his speculations carry no more wieght than a die hard Muslim unless they can be tested.
See, you’ve taken two separate issues and combined them into one. The existence of a supreme being and the nature of that supreme being are two separate issues. I agree with him on one, and disagree with him on the other. Why agreement with the one supposedly indicates agreement with the other is beyond me. He can be right about one and wrong about the other. You’re just playing word games.
The comment that I quoted goes to prove the existence of a supreme intelligence capable of producing life. It doesn’t even address any other issue. The statement is sufficient, if true, to prove his deism or my theism, to use your dichotomy. Of course he could be wrong. But the question is, is he?
When did you start taking tap-dancing lessons Dark? You’re sure doing a number around what I wrote.
And in fact I encourage you to be very skeptical of any claims from any authority on matters the ycannot back with empirical evidence. The implication being that only matters which are empirically testable can be regarded as authoritative. Do you realize that you cannot provide us with the empirical evidence that indicates this claim to be true? Even the most die-hard naturalist must take on faith that our sensory input of the testable evidence is valid. How about whether the laws of logic exist? Or the love for one’s family? Should scientists follow rules of ethics? Do you believe that numbers exist? Or that other minds exist? Or that the world exists while you are unconscious? How could you possibly empirically prove those statements when we don’t even know for sure if the emprical data is valid?
Looks like you’re stuck with quite a bit of faith too, Dark.
So… common sense would tell you that it is illogical to believe that speculations are invalidated simply because they may not be empirically testable. Common sense should also tell you that “science,” and philosophy (and theology) are not mutually exclusive disciplines. And common sense should tell you that those who have studied and thought on the correlation of science, philosophy, and theology, whether they be a professor or a pizza guy, just might have some well reasoned speculations to share.
When did you start taking tap-dancing lessons Dark? You’re sure doing a number around what I wrote.I honestly learned it from Creationists.
The implication being that only matters which are empirically testable can be regarded as authoritative.I didn’t state that only matters which are empirically testable can be regarded as anything. I said I encourage it’s use and I do so based on past history and the track record that methodolopgy has racked up. Not because I think it will settle every question imaginable. I have no way to know that.
Do you realize that you cannot provide us with the empirical evidence that indicates this claim to be true? Even the most die-hard naturalist must take on faith that our sensory input of the testable evidence is valid. How about whether the laws of logic exist?This is unnecessary. It has been known in formal analsyis for some time that any formal system which flows from a set of assumptions doesn’t have to be able to, and indeed in many cases cannot, generate proofs with those assumptions which ultimately prove those assumptions themselves. It’s one of the most eloquent fields in mathematics.
What’s even more interesting and directly falsfies your implication is that even though you cannot necessarily generate proofs from assumptions which prove the original assumptions, this does not force the system to contradict itself. And furthemore, even bringing in an outside system to prove the assumptions does not address the problem, it only extends to a wider system inclusive of both, and this iterates to infinite.
No offense, I appreciate your input, but I think you should probably bone up on formal system analysis to avoid making blunders like this Rusty.
I honestly learned it from Creationists.
Ah… I can see it now… “Kent Hovind’s School of Dancing”
I didn’t state that only matters which are empirically testable can be regarded as anything.
I didn’t say you stated it, I said you implied it. C’mon, you know very well that your arguments are based on the premise that empirically testable data holds greater authority as to its validity than empirically untestable data. My point isn’t whether the data is testable but how it is you get to the conclusion that you can rely on the empirically testable data.
It has been known in formal analsyis for some time that any formal system which flows from a set of assumptions doesn’t have to be able to, and indeed in many cases cannot, generate proofs with those assumptions which ultimately prove those assumptions themselves. It’s one of the most eloquent fields in mathematics.
Don’t you see how you still sneak through the faith door? “It has been known… for some time…”? Simply because people have, for some time, agreed to certain assumptions, does not negate the hard fact that they have taken, and must continue to take, those assumptions on faith. There are no empirically testable proofs that demonstrate what “has been known… for some time” is, in fact, true. It must ultimately be assumed… my whole point.
I’m not claiming that the system of the scientific method contradicts itself. I’m simply demonstrating that any proposition which relies on the validity of empirically testable data is done so on faith… something very few naturalists will admit to.
BTW, exactly how do you know that an outside force (outside of our natural realm) must reduce to an infinite regress? IOW, where is the empirical data which demonstrates this to be the case?
No offense taken Rusty I’m glad you take the time to comment on my ramblings.
My point isn’t whether the data is testable but how it is you get to the conclusion that you can rely on the empirically testable data.By the same route you did, it works so we both use it.
Don’t you see how you still sneak through the faith door? “It has been known… for some time…”?By know for some time, if yuo mean a mathematical therorem, it means proven to 100% metaphysical certainty. No faith required. Not a shred.
I’m not claiming that the system of the scientific method contradicts itself. I’m simply demonstrating that any proposition which relies on the validity of empirically testable data is done so on faith… something very few naturalists will admit to.This is incorrect. Naturalism is not science, naturalism is philosophy. Science relies on empirical evidence which means it does not not rely on faith, unless by faith you mean to compare the inference the sun will appear over the east horizon rise tomorrow to the faith some people had that their was a SunGodManSpirit inside of it who like chocolate.
Not only does science require faith in this sense, it reuires no faith at all, you can be absolutely convinced that science is invalid and it will still work for you everyday. You can reject science, mock it’s methods, ridicules it’s claims to your heart’s delight and still benefit from every gift science bestows. It works even if you have the opposite of faith, let alone no faith.
BTW, exactly how do you know that an outside force (outside of our natural realm) must reduce to an infinite regress? IOW, where is the empirical data which demonstrates this to be the case?Among other things and very simplistically stated, incompleteness shows that any formal system which cannot generate it’s own assumptions (And that means everything outside of tautologies) does not force contradiction of itself. There are many examples such as the real Numbers, or much broader systems such as many abelian groups and many topological spaces. These are topics in formal analysis and require no empirical data to be proven to 100% metaphyiscal certainty. You have as much chance of disproving it as you have of disproving that if all A’s are B’s, and all B’s are C’s: then all A’s are C’s using the conventional definitions.
Now, even if you could state what you call ‘naturalism’ as a formal system, which you lack the ability to do, and even if you could show formally that that set cannot generate it’s own assumptions (Which incidentally are nothing more than definitions you get to make up in a formal system), which you lack the capacity to even attempt, you would be limited by incompleteness theorems from forcing an independant valid external system which can do all that.
To prove the assumptions in the first system, you can bring in theorems from an outside system but that only extends the problem and it regresses forever.
Empirical evidence is unneseccary for any of this. We’re talking formal anaylsis here.
Lastly, naturalism is not science. Science is not incompatible with theism, deism, animism, spiritulism, ahtiesm, or any other ism, outside of those which make claims that observation has falsifed.
You’re wasting your time attacking any branch of philosophy if you’re doing so hoping to topple science. It’s about as likely as explaining there is philosophical consternation over Quantum Reality and hoping that you stop electrons in their tracks.
BTW it occurs to me that you might think I’m implying that I can’t be wrong in my ‘beliefs’. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I accept you really are named Rusty Lopez and that you’re an evangelical Christian, even though I have no way to know for sure. It’s not an extraordinary claim and it makes sense based on past experience with you. But if I found out you weren’t really named Rusty Lopez or you were a budhhist it wouldn’t ‘shake my faith’ in accepting people are named what they tell me and profess the beliefs they espouse. OTOH, if you told me you were Rusty Lopez the Immortal Son of Zeus I’d likely disregard that until such time as you produced some better reason for me to accept it;)
I am, evidently, still not properly explaining myself on certain aspects of this issue. My comments do not pertain to the validity of using empirically testable data. They have to do with how we come to the conclusion that such a process is valid. You yourself stated, “…it works so we both use it.” My point is that we have no way of determining the validity of the process without using the process itself – but the process cannot validate itself without being self-referential. Sooooo… we must assume (on faith) that, among other things, the process “works.”
This same predicament is faced with mathematics. Where are numbers? You cannot empirically test for the existence of numbers (or equations, for that matter). And you cannot use mathematics to prove that mathematics is valid. Mathematical proofs all rest on the assumption (on faith) that numbers exist, the laws of logic exist, etc.
I’ve stated this before but let me re-state it for clarity: I am not anti-science. I also do not consider naturalism to be equivalent to science. However, I believe that there are many naturalists who consider naturalism to be essentially equivalent to science (just read TPT). And, again, I am not claiming that science relies on faith but that, because of the inability to empirically test the validity of using empirical tests, one accepts the validity of empirically testability on faith.
With regards to your formal analysis I would argue that we have no way of determining the parameters of a system outside of our closed system (e.g., the natural realm we find ourselves in). If such an “outside” system is dependent on the same limitations as our “closed” system, then it not an outside system at all, but simply another part of our closed system. Additionally, we are in no position to declare that a true “outside” system must also be closed and, as such, dependent on another outside system. This brings to mind the question nearly every child asks, “If God created us, then who created God?” The fundamental error with such reasoning is that it assumes that outside systems, if they exist, are constrained by the same rules our system is.
J. P. Moreland comments on the concept of an infinite regression in his book, Scaling the Secular City. He gives the example of starting from the present and advancing and infinite number of years into the future. His question: When would you arrive at infinity? Of course you would never arrive at infinity. Now, imagining it as a timeline on an X axis, take your “present to infinity” line and flip it over 180 degrees. It now runs from “present to infinity” backwards in time. The question now: If our system is simply another in a series of systems running back to infinity, then how could we ever traverse infinity to get where we are today?
Regardless of whether or not empirical evidence is necessary for formal analysis, any foundational assumptions made within it are ultimately done so by way of faith.
BTW, I understand that accept the fact that you might be wrong… I too will claim that I most certainly could be wrong as well.
My point is that we have no way of determining the validity of the process without using the process itselfI agree and point taken. Thanks for taking the time to write the clarifications on the other matters. It was helpful. It’s a minor nitpick but I would clarify that what some might call an assumption as an article of faith in a formal system is confusing in the sense that we don’t have to ‘believe in’ those assumptions to generate the set. It might be useful to distinguish between assumptions in one usages versus another unless you and I think we’re using them in a context where that difference is clear.
On whether there are any articles I accept on faith, I’m not sure I can think of one that I accept purely on faith (Outside of the belief that I don’t look my age). I’m sure there are some, but nothing comes readily to mind. But I don’t exclude myself from believing things on faith. I am human, not an AI generation.
By the way I’ll be reviewing Glenn Morton, should be up tomorrow. Glenn is a TE creationist and a good guy.