John Burdon Sanderson Haldane FRS (5 November 1892 – 1 December 1964), known as Jack (but who used ‘J. B. S.’ in his printed works), was a British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist generally credited with a central role in the development of neo-Darwinian thinking (popularised by Richard Dawkins’ 1976 work titled The Selfish Gene). He was also one of the founders (along with Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright) of population genetics (Wikipedia).
In Mechanism, Life and Personality Haldane declared that “The phenomena of life are of such a nature that no physical or chemical explanation of them is remotely possible”.
A Prominent atheist Antony Flew
While an undergraduate, Antony Flew attended the weekly meetings of C. S. Lewis’s Socratic Club fairly regularly. Although he found Lewis to be “an eminently reasonable man” and “by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club,” he was not persuaded by Lewis’s argument from morality as found in Mere Christianity. Flew also criticised several of the other philosophical proofs for God’s existence. He concluded that the ontological argument in particular failed because it is based on the premise that the concept of Being can be derived from the concept of Goodness. Only the scientific forms of the teleological argument ultimately impressed Flew as decisive. During the time of his involvement in the Socratic Club, Flew also wrote the article “Theology and Falsification,” which argued that claims about God were meaningless where they could not be tested for truth or falsehood. Though initially published in an undergraduate journal, the article came to be widely reprinted and discussed. Later, in God and Philosophy (1966) and The Presumption of Atheism (1976, reprinted 1984), Flew argued that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. Flew was also critical of the idea of life after death and the free will defence to the problem of evil.
Conversion to deism
Flew subsequently changed his position given in the Habermas interview as justification for his endorsing of deism. In October 2004 (before the December publication of the Flew-Habermas interview), a letter written to the historian and atheist, Richard Carrier of the Secular Web, stated that he was a deist and also said that “I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.” Flew also said: “My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species … [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.”
In another letter to Carrier of 29 December 2004 Flew went on to retract his statement, writing “a deity or a ‘super-intelligence’ [is] the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature,” and “I now realise that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.” He blamed his error on being “misled” by Richard Dawkins, claiming Dawkins “has never been reported as referring to any promising work on the production of a theory of the development of living matter.” His 2007 book revisited the question, however, and questioned contemporary models: “the latest work I have seen shows that the present physical universe gives too little time for these theories of abiogenesis to get the job done.” He added: “The philosophical question that has not been answered in origin-of-life studies is this: How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and “coded chemistry”? Here we are not dealing with biology, but an entirely different category of problem.” The work of the Orthodox Jewish nuclear physicist Gerald Schroeder had been influential in Flew’s new belief, but Flew told Carrier that he had not read any of the critiques of Schroeder that Carrier referred him to.
However, in spring 2005, when Raymond Bradley, an atheist in Editorial Board for The Open Society journal, wrote an open letter to Flew accusing him of not “check[ing] the veracity of [Schroeder’s] claims before swallowing them whole,” Flew strongly responded to that charge in a letter published in the same journal in summer 2006, describing the content of Bradley’s letter “extraordinary offensive” and the accusation made by him as an “egregiously offensive charge”; he also implied that Bradley was a “secularist bigot,” and suggested that he should follow Socrates’s advice (as scripted in Plato’s Republic) of “follow[ing] the argument wherever it leads” Other prominent atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, suggested Flew’s deism was a form of God of the gaps.
When asked in December 2004 by Duncan Crary of Humanist Network News if he still stood by the argument presented in The Presumption of Atheism, Flew replied he did but he also restated his position as deist: “I’m quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god.” When asked by Crary whether or not he has kept up with the most recent science and theology, he responded with “Certainly not,” stating that there is simply too much to keep up with. Flew also denied that there was any truth to the rumours of 2001 and 2003 that he had converted to Christianity.
About other atheists, Flew said:
I have been denounced by my fellow unbelievers for stupidity, betrayal, senility and everything you can think of and none of them have read a word that I have ever written.
Restatement of position
A letter on Darwinism and theology which Flew published in the August/September 2004 issue of Philosophy Now magazine left the world hanging when it closed with, “Anyone who should happen to want to know what I myself now believe will have to wait until the publication, promised for early 2005, by Prometheus of Amherst, NY of the final edition of my God and Philosophy with a new introduction of it as ‘an historical relic’.” The preface of God and Philosophy states that the publisher and Flew went through a total of four versions (each extensively peer-reviewed) before coming up with one that satisfied them both. The introduction raises ten matters that came about since the original 1966 edition. Flew states that any book to follow God and Philosophy will have to take into account these ideas when considering the philosophical case for the existence of God:
- A novel definition of “God” by Richard Swinburne
- The case for the existence of the Christian God by Swinburne in the book Is There a God?
- The Church of England’s change in doctrine on the eternal punishment of Hell
- The question of whether there was only one big bang and if time began with it
- The question of multiple universes
- The fine-tuning argument
- The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for the development of living matter from non-living matter
- The question of whether there is a naturalistic account for non-reproducing living matter developing into a living creature capable of reproduction
- The concept of an Intelligent Orderer as explained in the book The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God by Roy Abraham Varghese
- An extension of an Aristotelian/Deist concept of God that can be reached through natural theology, which was developed by David Conway.
In 2007, in an interview with Benjamin Wiker, Flew said again that his deism was the result of his “growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe” and “my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.” He also restated that he was not a Christian theist. (Wikipedia)
That DNA would come into existence by chance alone has been calculated to be at least on the order of 1:1010(50), of course Darwinism is about chance and natural selection, but even then an additional factor seems necessary to explain the enormous complexity.
See: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology:
Professor Antony Flew writes:
The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins, is remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. (Helpfully, my copy of The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as ‘an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view’).
The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form. Thus we find in his index five references to Einstein. They are to the mask of Einstein and Einstein on morality; on a personal God; on the purpose of life (the human situation and on how man is here for the sake of other men and above all for those on whose well-being our own happiness depends); and finally on Einstein’s religious views. But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einstein’s most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it. (I myself think it obvious that if this argument is applicable to the world of physics then it must be hugely more powerful if it is applied to the immeasurably more complicated world of biology.
Charles Darwin is credited with being a co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. He was not an atheist, he was agnostic. He believed that one could not know if God existed or not. Darwin also believed that the universe did not arise by chance and that natural laws resulted from design which indicates that he believed in a form of Intelligent Design. Wikiquote from Charles Darwin:
I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.
Einstein rejected the label atheist. Einstein stated:
I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.
– Isaacson, Walter (2008). Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 390.
According to Prince Hubertus, Einstein said,
In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.
– Clark, Ronald W. (1971). Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: World Publishing Company, p. 425.
Very occasionally monkeys hammering away at typewriters will type out one of Shakespeare’s sonnets
Not true, not in this universe. But it is a popular assumption that the monkeys can do it, a wrong assumption that randomness can produce meaningful stable complexity. But let’s look at the numbers to see why the monkeys will always fail. I’ll take the only sonnet I know, sonnet number 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day …” All sonnets are 14 lines, all about the same length. This sonnet has approximately 488 letters (neglect spaces). With a typewriter or keyboard having 26 letters, the number of possible combinations is 26 to the exponential power of 488 or approximately ten to the power of 690. That is a one with 690 zeros after it. Convert the entire 10 to the 56 grams of the universe (forget working with the monkeys) into computer chips each weighing a billionth of a gram and have each chip type out a billion sonnet trials a second (or 488 billion operations per second) since the beginning of time, ten to the 18th seconds ago. The number of trials will be approximately ten to power of 92, a huge number but minuscule when compared with the 10 to power 690 possible combinations of the letters. We are off by a factor of ten to power of 600. The laws of probability confirm that the universe would have reached its heat death before getting one sonnet. We will never get a sonnet by random trials, and the most basic molecules of life are far more complex than the most intricate sonnet. As reported in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, when the world’s most influential atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, read this analysis of complexity and several analyses related to the complexity of life brought in my third book, The Hidden Face of God, and Roy Varghese’s excellent book, The Wonder of the World, he abandoned his errant belief in a Godless world and publically apologized for leading so many persons astray for the decades that his atheistic thoughts held sway.