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 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.

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.

Did Constantine corrupt the Gospel or Bible?

Over the years I have been asked rather frequently about Constantine. There is lots of misinformation and rumour that circulates about him.  Popular books/movies such as the Da Vinci Code or Holy Blood, Holy Grail portray him as the Roman Emperor who basically invented the Gospel for his own political ends.  Is that true?  Let us start with some easy-to-verify facts about him.

Constantine the Great: Facts on-hand

Constantine was Roman Emperor from 306-337 AD.  Prior to his rule many of the Roman Emperors were openly hostile to the Gospel, killing and persecuting many of the followers of the gospel.  The Emperor Nero started this trend in 64 AD, when he took first century followers of the gospel, bound and dipped them in oil, and burned them alive as human torches for lighting in his palace gardens!  Successive Emperors Domitian, Marcus Aurelius (of Gladiator movie fame), Diocletian and others continued this kind of treatment.  But Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting religious tolerance to all views.  Constantine became sole emperor of Rome by being victorious in a series of military campaigns against other rivals.  During these campaigns he converted to Christianity (from paganism).  There is much debate today whether his ‘conversion’ was sincere, or whether he did so for political gain.

The Council of Nicaea

In 325 AD Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the first empire-wide meeting of church leaders to discuss various controversies.   People often wonder if the gospels were changed or corrupted, or even selected (in some back-room conspiracy) for inclusion in the Bible at this time.  In fact, the main point of discussion was the theological understanding of the relationship between Jesus and God.  One camp (led by Arius) held that they were of different essences, and the other camp (led by Athanasius) held that they were of the same essences.   Therefore we know that theological interpretations were staked out and the summary Nicene Creed was authored from this council convened by Constantine.

Corruption or Conspiracy?

But were the gospels changed and/or selected at this council?  As we saw in Session 3 and the introductory article on Textual Criticism of the Bible, there are many manuscripts on-hand today that come from up to two hundred years before the time of Constantine (and the Council of Nicaea).  If this council (or Constantine) changed the documents of the New Testament then we would see this change in the copies that pre-date the Council of Nicaea from those that come after.  But the copies show no such change.  We see this in the timeline in the figure below taken from an article on the King James Bible where the manuscripts for Bibles today predate Constantine and the Council of Nicaea by up to two hundred years.

manuscripts and times from which modern Bibles are translated
From where does the Bible come?

But were the ‘wrong’ gospels selected into the Bible at this point?  We also know that this was not the case because both sides of the debate (Arius and Athanasius) used the same gospels and epistles (the ones that are in the Bible now) to argue their case.  Arius and Athanasius did not disagree on what the scriptural documents stated, nor did they disagree on which documents should be ‘in’ the Bible.  They disagreed, with heated debate, on the interpretation of these same scriptures.  We know this because an account of the debates and intrigues of the Council of Nicaea and Constantine’s role in it is preserved for us in the reporting of Eusebius who was one of the delegates to this council.  The writings of Athanasius are also preserved.

Constantine vs. the Good News of Gospel

Constantine did have a huge impact on the development of Christianity.  Christian celebrations like Christmas on December 25, how the date for the Easter celebration is calculated, and a reversal of the gospel from being counter-cultural and viewed with mistrust by the government, to becoming the cultural standard of Europe, in alliance with government, started with Constantine.  But the Gospel is not about culture or government power.  It is about a good news message from God freely received in the hearts and minds of people – and then changing their hearts.  And just like barnacles collecting on the hull of a ship can distort the hydrodynamics of a streamlined keel – and must be removed for the ship to regain its ability to move gracefully in the water – so a lot of Christianity that has developed since Constantine might need to be scraped away so we can access the pure gospel.  But it can be done.  And the ‘scraper’ with which we can find the pure Good News is the Bible.  Since the books in the Bible were not invented, modified or corrupted by Constantine we can use them to get a view of Jesus and his Gospel that has been around since his disciples went forth proclaiming his message.  This also allows us to better understand the various conspiracy theories about Jesus, (like did he have a wife or was he ‘invented’ from the ancient Egyptian mystery religion of Osiris, Isis and Horus).  It also allows us to understand where terms like ‘Christ’ originate.

But what about the theology and creeds that came from the Council of Nicaea?  Are they corrupt?  The really good news is that since the scriptures upon which these interpretations were debated are open and available to us today, we ourselves can consider the scriptures, understand its message, and assess those very same interpretations and creeds.  What many people have not understood, is that all themes in the Bible have their origins in the Old Testament, which predates by hundreds of years the influence of Constantine and even that of the Church.  For example, prophetic themes about the coming of the Messiah, as well as themes predicting the development of the Jewish people are dotted through the entire Old Testament.

Whatever we conclude about creeds and theology we can then ‘own it’ if we examine it for ourselves.  We may decide for a multitude of reasons not to believe or accept the Gospel.  Or we may decide to embrace it.  But let us avoid the really foolish notion of bringing Constantine into the mix.  He would be a poor excuse whichever way we land.