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.

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