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God’s presence is there to be known.

5 January 2010
The British philosophy professor Anthony Flew was a prominent atheist. Flew first came to be noticed with the 1950 article “Theology and Falsification,” based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by C.S. Lewis author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Another member of the club was JRR Tolkein, author of Lord of The Rings. Dr Flew became as popular in atheist circles as Lewis and Tolkein did in Christian.
Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, and other universities in Britain, in visits to numerous US and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates. But then after decades of insisting belief in God is a mistake, at the age of 81, the emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe, and that a super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature. Of course it was alleged in the New York Times that Flew was in serious mental decline.

Biologists’ investigation of DNA “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved,” Flew said. He became so convinced that life could not have started or been passed on without a “prime mover” that he wrote a new introduction to his book God and Philosophy. He has accused the atheist Richard Dawkins of ignoring Darwin’s belief that life was “breathed” into the first organism. “Darwin doesn’t say by whom, but it is pretty obvious what he meant.” Professor Flew agreed that the first life was breathed by God. “Well, I suppose so, yes,” he said. The theory that the enormous complexity of a living thing that was able to reproduce genetically could happen by accident was “just not on”. “No one has produced any theory for the origin of life, and reproduction is much more complex than that.” “It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism,” he wrote. So from saying that there was no evidence for God, at the age of 81, Flew says that science has shown us, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, intelligence must have been involved.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over the course of months for Flew. He said. ”My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” So there we have it, belief in God is common sense, and something to which rational scientific evidence should point us.

But of course it is not as easy as that. People are not moved by facts or clever scientific discoveries and professor Flew has not suddenly started attending his local church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He has been forced by the facts to concede that there is a god, but what form that god might take is a very different matter. He remains a Deist.

But, If there is a God, then what is God like? Is he some despot who does not care for the creatures he made? I read tonight that more people were killed in an explosion in Baghdad. The American, French and British embassies are closing Yemen for fear of terrorism. Riots, deaths, and police brutality are in the streets of Tehran. A man was arrested in Denmark for trying to kill a cartoonist that offended him. The first murder of the year took place in the city where I live. Where is God in all this?

Decades ago a collection of pop musicians calling themselves “Band Aid” recorded a hit single of their song “Do they know its Christmas.” I have always wondered about a line in that song

          “But say a prayer

          Pray for the other ones

          At Christmas time it’s hard, but when you’re having fun

          There’s a world outside your window

          And it’s a world of dread and fear

          Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

          And the Christmas bells that ring there

          Are the clanging chimes of doom

          Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”
“Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”? I have never understood that kind of prayer, a prayer that would thank God that somebody else was suffering instead of me. When we read of war and famine and disaster, should we really thank God that it isn’t us? Surely not, God hasn’t spared us – any more than he has caused the deaths of the people who suffer and die. Do we believe that God is like a puppet master controlling events and making us suffer? That he calls our number when the time is up and dispatches the grim reaper to collect souls?

   We have free will. God doesn’t control us like puppets. We have our own selves to blame for the starving in Africa, human beings do that, as they go to war in Baghdad and Gaza and all the other places.

 This isn’t to say that God is absent from our world and its events, God is around and God is intimately involved in our world. God’s presence is there to be known. It was known 2,000 years ago when the baby Jesus was born in a stable.

But God’s presence is not compelling we are not hypnotized into belief. It is uncompelling because we can all look and see different things. Shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem could have seen angels and stars, or just another cold night. Magi could have been moved to worship at the sight of that star, or compelled to turn the baby over to Herod to be killed. Would you and I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of the traders in the market place?
It’s the same for us in this Christmas season, God offers us alternatives, those with eyes of faith will see the miracle, those with skeptical and unbelieving hearts will remain untouched. Faith is not about following the facts. People will not be drawn to God because science tells them so. But faith is also not about putting our trust in something which we do not have any proof of. Rather, faith is about putting our trust in Someone we do not have any proof of, not at first anyway. We have to start forward in faith without any evidence to substantiate our belief, apart from the accounts of the saints that have gone on before us. This cannot be measured or analyzed, counted or weighed. But God can be known. The baby of Bethlehem, the Savior of Humankind chooses to reveal himself to us and we can know God afresh this year.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 January 2010 1:41 am

    The trouble with arguments like this, is that while the complexity of DNA and other natural things might point towards and intelligent creator, it does not point towards an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator. It does not point to the Judeo-Christian God. Nor does it say anything about the morality of the creator.

    If we are an intelligently designed creation we must keep in mind that we are deeply flawed. Many of us are born with severe defects. We experience terrible pain and suffering in our lives. Every one of us will at some point cease to function and die.

    If we are intelligently designed, our design would tend to suggest an imperfect creator.

    I hate to make allusions to SciFi in a serious discussion, but I have to give credit where credit is due. In the final episodes of the new Battlestar Galactica, one of the Cylons (Cavil) asks one of their creators (Helen) why they didn’t make the Cylons without human flaws. Why not make them out of something more enduring, like metal? Why allow them to feel pain? Why limit their senses? They could have been created to endure, experience the universe in more depth, and be programmed only to do good (such as under Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics). But they weren’t.

    What sort of creator makes such a flawed creation? If we were intelligently designed, just how intelligent is our creator? Is it a child on its first attempt? A sadist? A drunk?

    • 5 January 2010 1:52 am

      I think that perhaps you didn’t read all of my post. My point in telling the story about Anthony Flew was not to defend Intellegent Design theories. It was to illustrate the limits of just such thinking. Faith is not about following scientific facts. People will not be drawn to God because science tells them so. Rather, faith is about putting our trust in Someone. We have to start forward in faith without much evidence to substantiate our belief, but are relying on the accounts of the saints that have gone on before us.

      In response to your question, “What sort of creator makes such a flawed creation?” I would say that He didn’t. He created mankind with a free will, and it is the wrongful excercise of that free will that is the cause of the problem.

    • 24 November 2011 10:07 pm

      Or is our creator a being with a plan that he tries to make plain to us? Is the plan to make us consciously part of our own perfection as opposed to battery operated toys? To be human is to strive to understand and to create. Perfect little robots don’t understand or create. I would prefer to be the human.

  2. 23 November 2011 9:52 pm

    I have a question about faith and I feel you might be able to help me. Is faith a part of us – something we cannot choose and so cannot remove? Or is it an act of will? Can I choose faith and decide that I will obtain it? If I found that I had it not but desired it could I ask a God that I did not believe existed to give me the ability to achieve faith? Or does the desire to have it require some fundamental sort of pre-belief? Or is faith (and a belief in His existence) something born into some but not others? And is faith a passive state or an activity? And how can faith be lost? The potential to lose my faith is a terrible thought and has often worried me. So many questions and quite understandable that you might not have the time to answer them.

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