On December 9, 2004, an Associated Press story story went out on the wires, “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God: One of World’s Leading Atheists Now Believes in God, More or Less, Based on Scientific Evidence.”
More? Or less? As it turns out, neither. He believes in God simply on the scientific evidence. Many might consider that thin gruel, but he is entitled to cite the evidence in his defense. And there is a lot of it.
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There were, of course, many other 20th century atheist thinkers. But Varghese argues that thinkers like Ayer, Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, Rorty, and Derrida differed from Flew in that they offered systems of thought, one of whose byproducts was atheism.
Essentially, they were saying, my system is right – oh, and by the way, there’s no God. But that means that you must buy into the system to get the atheism. And if you come to doubt the system, why believe the atheism?
Part Two: Following the argument wherever it leads
Recounting his adventures in philosophy, Flew provides an answer to a question that had long puzzled me: Where did the intelligent design theorists get their slogan, “Follow the evidence wherever it leads!” It seems to have originated in Plato’s account of Socrates’ command in The Republic, to “Follow the argument wherever it leads.” (p. 22) This exhortation formed the basis of the Oxford Socratic Club, of which Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was president (1942-1954) and of which Flew was a member – and a leading exponent of the principle. Somehow (at least by p. 42), this transmutes to “following the evidence wherever it may lead.”
Part Three: Rediscovering the God of the Philosophers
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.”
Part Four: Einstein’s God and Antony Flew
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.