Antony Flew Considered Intelligent Design

When I was a university student, Antony Flew was considered to be one of the outstanding philosophers alive at the time.  He was also a prominent – world famous even – atheist.  In fact one of his contributions in the early 1970’s was an essay arguing that the very concept of God was meaningless since it was not testable in any rational way.

Antony Flew was born in the early 1920’s, and by the late 1930’s had concluded that there was no God.  But in 2007 he co-authored a rather remarkable book entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. So what caused this man to change his mind? In a 2005 interview he explained:

It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account.

Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.[1]

In his 2007 book Antony Flew stated that “the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries” and that “the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it”.  He stated the issue succinctly in his book:

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.[2]

In late 2006, Flew joined 11 other academics in urging the British government to teach intelligent design in the state schools.[3]

I am not generally swayed solely by opinions of leading people.  But I rarely ignore them.  I want to know the reasons which these people base their opinions on.  So what was it that Antony Flew learned about the cell that was not known in the 1930’s when he first decided that there was no God?  Take a look at some of the following videos that have been made recently to teach students how parts of the cell work.  As you watch them ask yourself these questions.  How could this cellular machinery put itself together to start cellular life?  Can this work if only half the components are present ‘waiting’ for the other half (and remember these are basic cells functions that are essential for life)?  Could this be assembled by chance (one cannot invoke natural selection since there is no reproduction until these processes work)?  Follow Flew’s lead and Consider Design at the cellular level.

Intelligent Design:  ATP Synthase

This one shows ATP Synthase – the enzyme that makes ATP, the molecule used for energy in all cellular functions.  Without this energy there could be no life.  Each cell in all bodies has many mitochondria organelles where the ATP Synthase is lodged in its membrane.  While you watch this video you will have generated trillions of ATP.

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Intelligent Design: RNA Transcription

This one shows how information in DNA is transcribed to RNA.  Without this capability life could not make proteins – the building blocks of cells.  Notice that it requires ATP to do this while the ATP Synthase requires DNA-RNA transcription.  A decidedly chicken-and-egg problem.

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Intelligent Design: Photosynthesis

This one shows how photosynthesis works.  This process is found in cyanobacteria, the simplest cells, and is the prerequisite function to convert solar energy into chemical energy, without which life could not function.  Notice again how ATP Synthase is required here.

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I encourage you to watch the many fascinating educational videos on how the cell works.  You can find them (Virtual Cell) at http://vcell.ndsu.edu/animations/home.htm

Certainly at an intuitive level, these cellular functions look like machines, and machines are made by intelligent agents.  So what is the naturalistic evolutionary rebuttal?  When I understood that is was a more-or-less blind appeal to ‘natural selection’, showcased at the university textbook level with examples like the evolution of the Soapberry bug, it was not hard to spot that this was simply a case of loss of functional information, not a gain of anything new.

When I also understood that the evolutionary argument from homology could just as easily be interpreted as evidence from a common designer I changed my mind.

I can also see why Antony Flew changed his mind.


[1] My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: an exclusive interview with former British atheist Professor Antony Flew by Gary Habermas, Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005

[2] Antony Flew: There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,” New York: Harper One, 2007, p124.