Tag Archives: Theism

What made the most famous atheist philosopher abandon atheism?

I first heard about Anthony Flew while reading a book-debate between Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland and atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen. Flew was one of the respondents, and he impressed me with his honest weighing of the evidence. Things got even more interesting when Flew debated William Lane Craig in front of over 4000 students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Here’s the audio and video. You can also buy the book!

During the Q&A, an angry atheist asked Dr. Flew why he had not appealed to the speculative oscillating model of the universe in order to escape the force of the kalam argument and the Big Bang. And that’s when Flew said a very strange thing. He said to the questioner that he could not appeal to the oscillating model of the universe because the big bang was the current best theory and the oscillating model was a speculation.

And that’s when I first knew that Flew would abandon atheism. You see, he was not interested in appealing to idle speculations against the evidence in order to justify his atheism. He was willing to go where the evidence led. He was not willing to play games with speculative theories like the oscillating model, the multiverse theory, unobservable aliens seeding life, etc. in order to weasel out of the demands of the moral law.

You can read all about his conversion to theism at Thinking Matters. (H/T MandM)

Excerpt:

Two of the most striking things about Antony Flew are his honesty and humility. He is prepared to admit where he has been wrong on a number of philosophical issues, not just on the existence of God. There is a humility and an openness to follow the evidence where it leads that is often lacking in the so-called “new atheists.” He is keenly aware of how easy it is to let preconceived ideas shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape our ideas. Therein, he says, “lies the peculiar danger… of dogmatic atheism.”

So, just what evidence has brought about this remarkable turn-around in Flew’s convictions? In his view, modern science spotlights three dimensions of the natural world that point to God. The first of these is the existence of the laws of nature. After spelling out their precision, symmetry, and regularity, he asks how did nature come packaged like this? The point is not just that these laws exist but that they are mathematical. That is, they are not found through direct observation, but are discovered through experiment and mathematical theory. The laws are “written in a cosmic code that scientists must crack.”

[…]The second area of recent scientific study that leads Flew to the God conclusion is the investigation of DNA and the life of the cell. For Flew the key philosophical question here is: how can a universe of mindless matter produce self-replicating life?

[…[The third area of evidence that leads Antony Flew to God is the consensus among scientists about the big-bang theory.

And there are some gems in the article, such as Flew’s comments about atheists who embrace the unobservable multiverse as an alternative to the fine-tuning argument. If you would like to learn more about arguments that work, and responses to atheistic arguments that work, check out my index of Christian arguments and counter arguments, or the debate page for some academic debates.

What Christians should take away from this

Feminized-postmodern-relativist-universalist Christians need to understand what actually works to change people’s minds: arguments and evidence. Converting a person to Christianity can only be done by establishing the truth of Christianity. Any appeal to emotions and felt needs, parental authority, tradition and convention, or threats of eternal damnation do not result in authentic faith.

There are three reasons Christian use such subjective methods instead of the objective methods that worked on Flew. First, most Christians don’t know these arguments. Also, they don’t want to do any studying to learn these arguments. Finally, they are afraid of getting into public debates because they don’t want to be different from others and diminish their own comfort and happiness.

How about we try something different? Something that actually works?

This is all particularly distressing now that a new survey has come out indicating that America could be 25% atheist in 20 years.

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How objective are scientists about their research, given their political views?

Hot Air linked to this Pew Research poll about the beliefs and attitudes of researchers in the scientific fields.

Excerpt:

More than half of the scientists surveyed (55%) say they are Democrats, compared with 35% of the public. Fully 52% of the scientists call themselves liberals; among the public, just 20% describe themselves as liberals. Many of the scientists surveyed mentioned in their open-ended comments that they were optimistic about the Obama administration’s likely impact on science.

For its part, the public does not perceive scientists as a particularly liberal group. When asked whether they think of scientists as liberal, conservative or neither in particular, nearly two-thirds (64%) choose the latter option. Just 20% say they think of scientists as politically liberal. However, a majority of scientists (56%) do see members of their profession as liberal.

Most scientists had heard at least a little about claims that government scientists were not allowed to report research findings that conflicted with the Bush administration’s point of view. And the vast majority (77%) says that these claims are true. By contrast, these claims barely registered with the public – more than half heard nothing at all about this issue. Only about a quarter of the public (28%) said they thought the claims were true.

Both scientists and the public overwhelmingly say it is appropriate for scientists to become active in political debates about such issues as nuclear power or stem cell research. Virtually all scientists (97%) endorse their participation in debates about these issues, while 76% of the public agrees.

I think it helps to make the point I was making earlier about the fraudulent science used to support global warming and Darwinian evolution. Many scientists have an agenda. They get paid by the government. The bigger government is, the better they get paid. Therefore, many are Democrats. Scientists tend to be biased in favor of material entities and explanations. Morality is non-material. Scientists therefore tend to resent the idea that moral claims are knowledge. They prefer to have autonomy from non-material moral rules. Therefore, many are atheists.

There are some dissenters of course. But these are rare.

Richard Dawkins debates John Lennox: Does God Exist?

Audio of the debate is hosted by my buddy Brian Auten who operates the Apologetics 315 blog.

You can download the full MP3 audio here.

I listened to this debate and thought that Dawkins did well against Lennox. It is a very short debate. This is not a rigorous academic debate, as neither participant argued in a formal manner. Dawkins came across as firm, but gracious, and he does a lot better than Hitchens did in his recent debate against Craig.

This debate is recommended for beginners to get a bird’s eye view of some of the issues before moving on to professional academic debates featuring analytical philosophers such as William Lane Craig, Walter Sinott-Armstrong, etc. They don’t really go into complicated details.

My favorite academic debate is this one featuring William Lane Craig vs Walter Sinnott-Armstrong on the problems of evil and suffering. Another great debate featuring Bill Craig and Austin Dacey is here (video) and their re-match is here (audio).

A huge list of other William Lance Craig debates is here, courtesy of ChristianJR4.

What are the minimal requirements for rational morality?

UPDATE: Welcome readers from the the Western Experience! Thanks for the link, Jason!

Last week, I posted a list of 13 questions that Christians could use to get discussions going with their atheist friends. Basically, you ask your atheist friend out to lunch, ask them the questions. We got 10 responses to the questions, which I summarized here. And I had lunch with another one of my friends, another Jewish atheist, who goes to a Reformed synagogue, as well.

Basically, the questionnaire’s purpose is to establish whether atheism provides a rational foundation for moral behavior. Specifically, can atheism account for the minimal requirements for rational moral behavior (see below).

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

Tomorrow, I will explain why the answers given by the atheists show that the worldview of atheism offers none of these 5 requirements, and that therefore morality is really, really, really irrational on atheism. Atheist can look over their shoulders at their neighbors, and act like them in order to feel happy that they are acting consistently with the arbitrary fashions of their herd, but that’s all they can do, on atheism.

Further study

You can get the full story on the requirements for rational morality in a published, peer-reviewed paper written by William Lane Craig here. You can also hear and see him present the paper to an audience of students and faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. The audio is clipped at 67 minutes, the video is the full 84 minutes. There is 45 minutes of Q&A, with many atheist challengers.

The video of this lecture is the best material you can get on this issue, and the Q&A from the hostile audience is vital to the lesson. More debates on atheism and morality can be found on the debate and lecture page.

You can find a post contrasting the morality of an authentic, consistent Christian with an authentic, consistent non-Christian here. A post examining how atheism is responsible for the deaths of 100 million innocent people in the 20th century alone is here. A post analyzing the tiny number of deaths that religion was responsible for is here.

William Lane Craig’s comments on the Columbia University debate with Shelly Kagan

Thought I would cut and paste these comments from Reasonable Faith regarding the debate I summarized in my last post so that you would be able to see how much Craig appreciated Kagan’s debating skill. I thought this was a great debate!

This is just a big quote from Craig’s March 2009 newsletter:

After a week at home, I was off again to New York to speak at a Veritas Forum at Columbia University. Columbia is on the western edge of Harlem, just north of Central Park. Its campus is a lovely oasis in the midst of big city ugliness. Like the other Ivy League universities, it was originally founded as a Christian institution. On the face of the old library the inscription states that Columbia exists “for the advancement of the public good and the glory of Almighty God.” In the campus chapel above the altar are inscribed Paul’s words, now ironically so appropriate, “Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17. 23)!

On the first evening I debated professor Shelly Kagan of Yale University on the question “Is God Necessary for Morality?” Actually, this was not a debate but a dialogue. After we each gave our opening statements, we had a very substantive discussion. Kagan has Christian colleagues at Yale, like Robert Adams and John Hare, who defend moral values and duties based in God, and I was struck by the respect with which he treated the view. He surprised me by not arguing for his own view of ethics, which is a radical consequentialism. He holds that if torturing a little girl to death would somehow result in greater overall good as a consequence, then that is what we should do! Instead he defended a social contract view of morality, according to which our moral duties are whatever rules perfectly rational people would agree to as a way of governing society. I responded that this makes morality a human convention, rather than objective. Kagan also affirmed in our dialogue that he is a physicalist and determinist. I charged that determinism strips our actions of any moral significance. We also disagreed over the importance of moral accountability. I claimed that the absence of moral accountability on atheism makes morality collide with self-interest and robs our choices of significance, but Kagan maintained that we don’t need a sort of cosmic significance in order for our moral choices to be significant. All in all, we had an affable and substantive exchange which fairly presented the alternatives.

One feature of our dialogue that pleased and surprised me was how clearly the Gospel emerged in the course of our conversation. Talking about moral values and accountability led naturally to the subject of our failure to fulfill our moral duties and how to deal with that. I was able to explain our need of God’s forgiveness, moral cleansing, and rehabilitation. Kagan then asked me how Jesus fits into the picture. That gave me the chance to expound on Christ’s atoning death and the fulfillment of God’s justice in Christ’s bearing the penalty for our sin. I was gratified that the Gospel could be shared so clearly and naturally with the students present.

The next day I sat for an interview with an independent filmmaker who is doing a short film on the theological significance of the beginning of the universe in contemporary cosmology. Later that evening I spoke in a small campus theater on “Who Was Jesus?” Judging by the student questions, this audience was largely Christian. It is very touching to hear so many Christians after the debate and my lecture share expressions of encouragement and thanks for the way the Lord has used our ministry in their lives.

Craig’s other lecture at Columbia

To hear the other lecture by Craig on the topic of “Who did Jesus think he was?”, click here. The video is here. This lecture was also delivered in February, 2009 at Columbia University, probably the most secular leftist university in the United States. Yes, the same university that invited Achmadinejad to speak.