God? Don’t Confuse Me with Facts

When I was 17, I first came across the humorous statement “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” The saying was on one of those gag post cards with others such as Plan ahead, the latter word spilling onto the side of the page because there wasn’t enough room on the line. Funny stuff, until you encounter actual, real life circumstances that reflect this kind of irony.

Unfortunately, I think there is much of the don’t-confuse-me-with-facts thinking in regard to Antony Flew’s latest and last book There Is a God. Unsurprisingly, a New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer is leading the way for those who do not want to believe that an atheist could actually follow the evidence and conclude there is a god.

In Oppenheimer’s article, he lays out two basic insinuations—certainly not proofs—to explain the existence of There Is a God. First he suggests the “senescent scholar” is just too old to think straight any more.

With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand.

Ouch! Poor man. Some people in their 80s and even in their 90s show little mental deterioration (see this article about a speaking engagement last week by 97-year old Coach John Wooden about whom one student said “He’s 97, but he has the sharpest mind I’ve ever been around”), but unfortunately some decline. Has this happened to Flew?

I read an interview by a noted Catholic thinker, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, conducted with Flew and posted October 30 after the release of the book. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary’s University, and Thomas Aquinas College (CA). You can read the relatively short interview here. In Flew’s statements I didn’t detect anything suggesting the kind of decline Oppenheimer implies. Here’s a sample:

The second [reason for abandoning atheism] was 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. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.

Interestingly, Oppenheimer admits further along in his New York Times article that Flew informed him of a medical condition that would affect their interview:

When we began the interview, he warned me, with merry self-deprecation, that he suffers from “nominal aphasia,” or the inability to reproduce names.

Of course, not remembering certain names, especially when they are thrown at him out of context, does not mean that Flew can’t follow evidence to it’s logical conclusion.

Oppenheimer’s second stratagem, then, was to point to the evangelical [read poor scholarship, biased point of view] influences on Flew and the undue leverage of his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese, who he persisted in calling a “ghost-writer” though his name is on the cover of the book.

“There was stuff he [Flew] had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”

So even the ghostwriter had a ghostwriter

On no more evidence than that Flew spent time with theists, Oppenheimer concludes

Intellectuals, even more than the rest of us, like to believe that they reach conclusions solely through study and reflection. But like the rest of us, they sometimes choose their opinions to suit their friends rather than the other way around. Which means that Flew is likely to remain a theist, for just as the Christians drew him close, the atheists gave him up for lost … At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake.
-emphasis mine

Nothing from the interview with Dr. Wiker shows anything of this dottering man just glad to upend his life’s work because a few “Christians” were kind to him. (From Oppenheimer: “These Christians were kind and attentive, and they always seemed to have the latest research.” [Implication: And of course, we know THAT could never be true.)

The fact is, Dr. Flew has become a deist. This thinker followed the evidence and has concluded that there is an intelligent designer. Unfortunately, too many whose minds have already been made up don’t want to be confused with facts.

There Is a God and He Has a Son

There has been a great deal of discussion among those in the Christian writing community about “Christian fiction,” and now it would seem there is even a discussion of what it means to be a Christian. I ran across an interesting post via Looking Closer Journal, Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog. I’m referring to sometime-Christianity Today-movie-reviewer Brett McCracken’s post Christianity 101: Exclusivity.

In this article McCracken lays out a well-thought explanation of the exclusive nature of Christianity, and don’t ya know, one of the commenters took exception:

For many christians, historically and currently, exclusivism is not a tenable position. There’s a huge body of theological work surrounding this issue

Well, no wonder people become atheists or even deists. I mean, if all gods are the same, and we have these insurmountable problems that we can’t control, and everyone’s in the same boat, then how could you believe in a god who gives a rip.

The claims of Christianity separate from the claims of other religions, not at the cross so much as at the manger, though the two really are a package deal. No other religion has God taking the form of man in order for humans to have a relationship with God.

Some religions think Man can become god-like, some think Man can do what it takes to become presentable to God. What these belief systems miss is how Other God is from His fallen creatures. His holiness is perfect. So is His goodness. And His righteousness. Who is Man to think he can enter into the presence of perfection with his “Yo, God, did ya catch me doling out my change to the Salvation Army bell ringer” attitude.

Man buys into universalism, in my opinion, because he does not recognize his own spiritual need. After all, we’ve grown up hearing “I’m OK, you’re OK.” One thing that almost always raises hackles is the notion that Man is sinful. Sure, no one is perfect, but, hey, we’re all good. Huh? There’s a disconnect between those statements that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Anyone believing in universalism, that is.

McCracken’s conclusion was right on, I thought:

the final solution, in Christianity’s view, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Not just the general, social reform causes he championed, but Jesus Christ the man: God incarnate. He offers himself to all—no matter where you where born or what you have done—and in that way he is the most inclusive.

I realize some with Calvinist leanings will differ with this last statement, but the first, I believe, is essential.

I was thinking about this in regards to Dr. Flew who I wrote about in yesterday’s post. Here’s a man who holds to the David Hume need for empirical evidence to support his beliefs. But God gave empirical evidence by sending His Son. He sent corroborating witnesses who wrote down what they observed. He sent a visible representation of His Holy Spirit, and that too was recorded for history. What other god has reached down to Man like that to make himself known?

Of course, the ultimate capper was Jesus The High Priest and King becoming the Sacrifice so that sinful Man could come into the presence of Holy God. That’s what Christianity is all about. As McCracken alluded to, it is not an organized religion advocating that people imitate Jesus. It is a relationship with God that spurs us to the love and forgiveness of others we have first experienced from Him.

So, back to what is Christian fiction. 😀

Published in: on November 8, 2007 at 1:44 pm  Comments (20)  
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There Is a God by Antony Flew

Antony Flew is one of the leading philosophers of the Twentieth Century. And an atheist. Or at least he used to be. In 2004 the 81-year-old scholar admitted publicly that he now believes there is a god. He still denies anything like special revelation—the actual communication of God with Man—but he “followed the evidence,” and found the arguments for intelligent design compelling.

This rather shocking about-face was reported in various news media, but a lengthy interview exploring Flew’s beliefs is available at Biola University’s Biola News & Communications.

There Is a GodThe book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (HarperOne, 2007) by Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, released last month. Interestingly, I heard about it from Steve Laube at the ACW Conference in Anaheim the week the book came out. Little did I suspect I would be blogging about it in a matter of weeks.

Actually when Mir left her comment to yesterday’s post, I was trying to remember Flew’s name. Then, lo and behold, on the ACFW email loop, one of the writers mentioned the book! Well, I don’t believe in coincidences—I see God’s hand in bringing little details together. So I set out to learn a little about Flew.

First, I was surprised that his revelation came three years ago. I vaguely remember reading the headline of an article about his change of mind (clearly not yet a change of heart) in my local paper. Nothing more until Steve Laube told us the interesting tale of how he became Flew’s agent. Even then I didn’t realize this “news” was not new.

Of course, the book release is stirring up more conversation about the subject, and it is interesting. On one site, evidently visited predominantly by atheists, the reaction ranged from distain to relief. Distain because, surely if Antony Flew was really such an important, leading atheist, THEY would know who he was! Relief, because Flew may now believe in god, but he clearly does not believe in the Christian God!

In regards to the first point, I admit I didn’t know who Flew was either. Here’s the intro of his entry in Wikipedia:

Professor Antony Garrard Newton Flew (born February 11, 1923) is a British philosopher. Known for several decades as a prominent atheist, Flew first publicly expressed deist views in 2004

Evidently his prominence is in academia. He produced forty books or pamphlets in his field, a number specifically dealing with the subject of God’s existence.

That some other people came up with the idea that there is no god, apart from any apparent study or philosophical base is more telling of the weakness of their belief system, I would think. Their ignorance of such an influential thinker would be tantamount to my saying I’ve never heard of Charles Spurgeon or J. I. Packer or A. W. Tozer.

Regarding their “relief” that at least he doesn’t believe in the Christian God, I at first found it amusing, until I realized how that attitude reflected such a clear rejection of God Himself.

Much like Flew’s own rejection of God. The man was raised in a God-fearing home but turned to atheism because he couldn’t accept the idea of a good, wise, all powerful creator who would consign much of humanity to hell. In other words, he can’t resolve God’s goodness with His justice. My belief is, the resolution lies with His mercy.

Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 12:21 pm  Comments (21)  
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