Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There Is A God--some thoughts.

First off, I enjoyed the book overall.  My favorite part was the preface, and I am intrigued enough by Roy Abraham Varghese's writing to consider picking up some of his books.

The first chapter or so was somewhat dry as Antony Flew recounts his many contributions to philosophy and his role in promoting atheism. He's setting the stage to pre-emptively disarm those who doubt his former sincerity as an atheistic philosopher, or think he hasn't fully considered the philosophical options.  

The most striking thing about Flew's "conversion" to acknowledging the existence of God is his complete honesty and the humility he is willing to show in "following the argument wherever it leads." I dare say most atheists, and many Christians, wouldn't be so open and humble in re-evaluating some of their longstanding assumptions/presumptions about the existence/non-existence of God.

I'd recommend the book to anyone who has begun exploring the common philosophical arguments between atheists and theists, and who is familiar with the basic ideas involved in such arguments.

So...what led Flew to this reversal?

Flew's primary motivation can be partly categorized as a recognition of the Argument from Design; the complexity of the universe, DNA, and the immutable laws of Nature communicate a rationality which springs forth from a superior Mind, as he calls it. He quotes several scientists in this area, such as Einstein, Schrodinger, Planck and even Stephen Hawking, revealing their sense of the ultimate guiding force of the universe as one of rationality and purpose.

He has several good quotes from Einstein, who while not "religious" in the sense that most people would understand the word, possessed a definite sense of mystery and wonder attributable to this "superior Mind" which seemed to form the laws of Nature.

One of the Einstein quotes:
Everyone who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the experience of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
another one:
My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
Flew makes an important distinction between science and philosophy and the ability to come to conclusions about the existence of God.  This is significant because it pinpoints the Achilles heel in the arguments made by someone like Dawkins, or PZ Meyers, who attempt to use scientific advancements as refutations of the existence of God. Ultimately they are using data and interpreting the results into a philosophical argument, not a scientific argument.

Flew says it best:
You might ask how I, a philosopher, could speak to issues treated by scientists.  The best way to answer this is with another question. Are we engaging in science or philosophy here? When you study the interaction of two physical bodies, for instance, two subatomic particles, you are engaged in science. When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles--or anything physical--could exist and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking like a philosopher.
He goes further:
Of course, scientists are just as free to think as philosophers as anyone else. And, of course, not all scientists will agree with my particular interpretation of the facts they generate. But their disagreements will have to stand on their own two philosophical feet. In other words, neither their authority nor their expertise as scientists is of any relevance. This should be easy to see. If they present their views on the economics of science, such as making claims about the number of jobs created by science and technology, they will have to make their case in the court of economic analysis. Likewise, a scientist who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case.  As Albert Einstein himself said, "The man of science is a poor philosopher."
I was surprised that some of Flew's reasons for believing in the existence of God were already intimately known by me, and are perhaps the strongest cases that I myself have made to people when discussing this subject. The main points of contention lay in three important areas: First Cause--from where did the universe come?; Life itself--how does matter suddenly become alive, self-replicating and purpose-driven towards survival and consciousness?; the complexity and organization of Nature--one can't break nature's laws.

The book didn't cover any new ground for me.  I didn't discover a new way of thinking about God's existence, but I have read several books in this vein, so that wasn't surprising. However, I think the most enlightening points in the book are rooted in Flew's  case that philosophically speaking, many atheistic scientists are deficient in their refutation of God's existence.

There's still more rolling around in my head...so I might come back to this in a few days.


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