God’s presence is there to be known.
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?
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.