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.

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.

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.

I encourage you to watch the many fascinating educational videos on how the cell works.  You can find them (Virtual Cell) at

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.

The Ubiquity of the Design Inference

I have noticed that it is often the very things that surround us all the time that escape our notice.  Or at least we seem to easily miss the significance of that which is everywhere – the ubiquitous.   It is fish who are likely to fail to notice the water that they swim in – precisely because it is all around them, all the time.

The same is true of our Design Inference.  It is so innate to us that we can miss it even when it confronts us directly.  This realization snuck up on me last week when I was staying with a friend of mine.

This friend is wrestling deeply with questions pertaining to the Gospel.  Is there a God?  Has He revealed himself?  Or have people made him up?  If He has revealed himself, how should one separate his ‘fingerprints’ from those of people?  Is the historical Jesus accessible to us?  As we shared our thoughts, insights and doubts about these and other similar questions our friendship grew because it is often the sharing of these questions, rather than having similar answers that can spark fellowship.  As part of his search he was exploring naturalistic answers, and given that I believe the gospel assertion that we are made by a Creator, he invited me and another to view the NOVA series Becoming Human. It is a documentary on naturalistic human evolution.  We watched the third episode entitled Last Human Standing.

I predicted that the general trend would be that as more information is gathered one would see that the supposedly intermediate ‘ape-men’ would be either human or ape.  This was based on my experience in discovering in the literature that there is marked absence of transitional fossils across the fossil record (see Session 1b video for more on that).  The documentary did show, through DNA sequencing comparisons that Neanderthals were fully human.  Their DNA is the same as ours.  I showed my friend how other data presented in the documentary fit readily within a Biblical framework.  One needed just to look at the data slightly differently.

But it was the inferences and reasoning logic of the anthropologists interviewed in the documentary that made me take note.  They were excited because they had discovered rocks in Africa that had etchings scratched on them.  They had also discovered shells with patterned holes in them.  Their conclusion was that this was the first instance ever of information being stored outside a human brain.  And given the presence of these artefacts, hominids at this point must have evolved sufficiently to have minds capable of symbolic thought.  And it was then that the irony struck me.

Why did these anthropologists very naturally, and without hesitation, deduce that hominids at this ‘stage’ of evolution must have developed the capability of symbolic thought? Because we know from universal experience – it is ubiquitous – that information and design only comes from an intelligent agent.  These anthropologists did not stop to wonder if the holes in the shells and the etchings on the rocks were produced by time, chance and natural processes.  They used the design inference to deduce that they were made by hominids and that these hominids must therefore have been ‘intelligent’.  And we the viewers did not even question their reasoning.  Without batting an eye we accepted it as self-evidently logical and reasonable.  The inference to an intelligent agent when confronted by design is ubiquitous.

Yet in the same interview these same anthropologists surmised that these etchings and shell holes were the first instance ever of information stored outside the brain.  Really?  The information stored universally in the biological world in DNA, from which kidneys, wings, lungs, feathers – and yes even brains – are built is astronomically more complex and functional than any etchings on rocks or holes in shells.

Is it really a stretch to deduce an Intelligent Designer when we are confronted with information in DNA that is far more complex than anything man has ever developed when we at the same time so naturally deduce ‘Intelligent Hominids’ when confronted by information that is far less impressive?  That is the question we take up in Session 1 – The Case for God: Considering Design.  The videos in this session are high definition and they are partitioned into chapters so you can stop and then re-start viewing in marked spots.

1. The Case for God – Considering Design

It is generally assumed in our world today that naturalistic evolution can explain how life arose and developed into what it is today.  In other words, the origin and development of everything from lobsters, giraffes and humans – and everything in between – can supposedly be explained by evolution.

When I was asking some basic questions of the gospel (as summarized in About Me: The Wisdom I learned from a filthy-rich, hard-drinking playboy) I had read books that called evolution into question and argued for a Creator.  However, it was when I was a grad student in Forest Engineering that I decided to study university textbooks and journals used to teach evolution to dig deeper into the subject.  It was eye-opening.  What the critics of evolution wrote was one thing, but it was the arguments and rationales used in the textbooks and journals explaining evolution that moved me far more.  Since my grad student days I periodically read the current textbooks used in university.  In the following four videos I take you on a tour of some of these textbooks so you retrace the journey that I took.

This first video introduces the Design Inference and asks whether such a view, at a high level, fits with the data.  Seeing how leading evolutionists describe what and how life is shows us that there is at least an initial fit.

This second video looks at whether we observe the process of evolution occurring today.  After all, science is based on what we observe.  What do the texts says?…

This third video surveys the fossil record of natural descent and then using the alleged evolution of the bird-lung looks at some theoretical problems with functional transitions.

This fourth video looks at misconceptions that are common in our culture about evolution and then concludes by revisiting Design.

These video sessions reference some of the books and journals that I have studied over the years.  The main ones used in the videos are:

Kenneth V Kardong,  An Introduction to Biological Evolution. 2005

Snustad and Simmons.  Principles of Genetics 2nd Ed 1997

Francis Collins.  The Language of God. 2006

SF Gilbert. Developmental Biology 8th Ed 2006.

Scott Freeman and JC Herron. Evolutionary Analysis 4th Ed. 2007

ENK Clarkson &  Blackwell.  Invertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution. 1979

Peter Price. Biological Evolution, 1996

Davis & Kenyon.  Of Pandas and People: The central question of biological origins. 1993

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  • 31/01/2012 - Antony Flew Considered Intelligent Design

  • 24/01/2012 - The Ubiquity of the Design Inference