by Jorge Reyes
Browsing the internet today, I read the obituary of the British rationalist philosopher Anthony Flew.
For most of his life Flew has been a consistent and strong advocate for natural philosophy, unemcumbered by belief in God or miracles. To him, he advocated a negative form of atheism, placing the burden of proof of belief in any transcendence squarely on the shoulders of theists. Since propositions of belief in God cannot be disproven, he would say, then he argued that it would be senseless to even advocate a rational marriage between belief and unbelief, like much of philosophy has tried to do. One key to understanding much of Flew's philosophy: to follow evidence wherever it leads, something also said by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.
By a strange twist of intellectual honesty (some people call it intellectual dishonesty or age-old decrepitude), in 2004 Flew changed his mind. Still denying much belief in a personal God, life after death, or the supernatural, he began to argue that discoveries into the DNA prove that an intelligent design of some sort must have brought such complex matter into existence. He went on to argue that although this proved that something-- never calling that something by a name-- had to have been involved in the first act of creation, what is called the Big Bang, the springing forth, of sentient matter from inanimate matter. What that something was, Flew didn't go into detail. It was a deism in the philosophical tradition of Thomas Jefferson.
To deists, nature's god first created the world and then let the world function with its natural laws, letting the great natural machinery of life evolve on its own, without any special assistance from this god. Life, in other words, is like a blind clockmaker created by an unknown clockmaker.
Fast-forward my timeline and years later living in the United States as a young adult enrolled in college, I remember the day I heard the well-known American atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair calling all believers idiots, all miracles as a form of mental illusion, and anyone who disagreed with her were just suffering from mental illness. If there were any gods, as she liked to whip, all you had to do is prove it to her and the whole assorted mess would be resolved.