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Defending the Faith: Science helped change views of prominent atheist

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  • John Marx Layton, UT
    March 20, 2014 6:02 a.m.

    Daniel Peterson wrote:
    "That Antony Flew turned away from decades of atheistic argument to become a theist doesn’t prove that there is a God. But it ought, perhaps, to give skeptics some pause and induce them to consider the same arguments that Flew found so persuasive."

    It seems like it would be trivial to find examples of theists turned atheist and then say, "That [insert name] turned away from decades of theistic argument to become a atheist doesn’t prove that there is a good case against God. But it ought, perhaps, to give believers some pause and induce them to consider the same arguments that [insert name] found so persuasive."

    So I have to ask, how would believers respond if the roles were reversed in this way? How compelling would such a column be to you?

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 20, 2014 6:09 a.m.

    Dr. Peterson seems particularly determined to construct scientific reasons for acknowledging the existence of God, which seems a bit strange given that it is called “faith” and has been promoted as such for thousands of years. Oh well…

    I will just say that I believe he’s on shaky ground here when we consider that for every person like Flew (who did “see the light” at a relatively old age) there are hundreds for whom science has led them in the opposite direction.

    And we should note that Flew still had enough of his mental faculties to not suggest science points to the existence of the God of Abraham. Even if Intelligent Design is correct (and frankly, it is filled with holes) there may be scores of other explanations for whom or what started the Big Bang.

    As one if many interesting speculations, read Isaac Asimov’s brilliant and very brief short story, The Last Question.

    And showing a bit of desperation on his part, Dr. Peterson can’t help but make a Pascal’s Wager like appeal at the end of his article… a missionary’s work is never done.

  • C Shields c, CA
    March 20, 2014 7:50 a.m.

    Thanks for thought provoking articles, such as this. It makes my morning reading so much more enjoyable! More, please, more!

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    March 20, 2014 8:18 a.m.

    Science is a wonderful thing. The natural world offers nearly endless wonder.

    I (and many) find within it an affirmation of God's hand. Some do not.

    I do not look for science to prove my faith to be correct. But neither do I worry about it proving my faith wrong.

  • brokenclay Tempe, AZ
    March 20, 2014 8:37 a.m.

    Just to preempt certain comments:

    "My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 percent agree with. . . . The idea that someone manipulated me because I'm old is exactly wrong." -Flew

    "Fortunately, though I am 83 and will (DV) be 84 in April, my only afflictions are arthritis, in my left leg and nominal afasia (I can't remember names)." -Flew, from a letter dated 18 Dec 2006

    Flew was a world-class scholar. This is what makes his conversion so significant. It would be like a William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga converting to atheism. And no one is claiming that this establishes truth. We are simply saying, contra so many atheists, that the traditional theistic position is indeed rationally compelling.

    Whether natural theology can establish Christianity is irrelevant; if it succeeds atheism and agnosticism are automatically discarded, while Christianity remains a viable option to be proven via different means.

  • John Marx Layton, UT
    March 20, 2014 8:58 a.m.

    brokenclay, You wrote,
    "Flew was a world-class scholar. This is what makes his conversion so significant. It would be like a William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga converting to atheism. And no one is claiming that this establishes truth. We are simply saying, contra so many atheists, that the traditional theistic position is indeed rationally compelling."

    By this same token, does Flew's continued rejection of Christianity mean that the case against Christianity is also rationally compelling?

    And if it is "rationally compelling", would it be fair for Flew to be judged/condemned for his non-belief?

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    March 20, 2014 9:07 a.m.

    @brokenclay

    Here is the rest of the story to your preemption...readers may find it interesting:

    Very shortly after Flew's book "There is a God" was released, The New York Times published an interview with Flew by historian Mark Oppenheimer in which he revealed that Flew was in a serious state of mental decline at the time, having great difficulty remembering key figures, their work, ideas, or even events relating to the debate covered in his book.

    Oppenheimer claims Flew informed him with no ambiguity that he did not write the book. The book was almost entirely written by Roy Varghese, a computer consultant, in concert with Pastor Bob Hostetler. When Oppenheimer subsequently interviewed Varghese, he too stated that the book was his idea, and that he "did all the original writing."

    Whether or not Flew subsequently stated the book represented his opinions, it certainly raises questions about is mental and cognitive state during the period the book was composed. Sadly, Varghese was willing to exploit an old philosopher afflicted with Alzheimer's disease in order to sell a book.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 20, 2014 9:37 a.m.

    @brokenclay – “Whether natural theology can establish Christianity is irrelevant; if it succeeds atheism and agnosticism are automatically discarded”

    How so?

    I am atheistic with respect to the god of the OT as I am (and I suspect everyone reading this as well) with respect to Zeus, Isis, Baal, Odin and all the other gods of antiquity. But I am agnostic with respect to a creative force behind the universe and even one that we can align ourselves to in some way for positive effect.

    A successful natural theology may call into question my agnosticism, but I don’t see how it would impact my atheism.
    And before we get too carried away with the possibilities of natural theology, we should recognize that it is not a serious area of study for non-believing academics and has been devastated by a wide variety of scholars from Hume to Dawkins.

    Also, the track record for science eventually providing natural explanations for what was once thought to be supernatural facts is stellar, whereas religion providing us explanations… not so good.

  • crimendelsiglo Spanish Fork, UT
    March 20, 2014 11:17 a.m.

    --- John Marx Layton, UT --- WHAT IF ...? "if the roles were reversed in this way?" but the roles weren't. anyone can speculate abt what if.

    i'm more inclined (without having read anything more abt him) to think he may have had a "death-bed" wish to, put a little credit in his pocket, "just in case ..." he meets a stranger a few moments after his last breath. i wouldn't not have been impressed even if he had become a washed born-again (x)

    i read the opinion not as a conversion story, rather how evidently brilliant minds use same/similar info to argue the opposing ideas = debate 101

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 20, 2014 12:53 p.m.

    "That Antony Flew turned away from decades of atheistic argument to become a theist doesn’t prove that there is a God. But it ought, perhaps, to give skeptics some pause and induce them to consider the same arguments that Flew found so persuasive.

    The stakes, both for how we live our lives in this world and for the world to come, are enormous."
    ______________________________

    The stakes? Considering different views are often of benefit in this life. But if Peterson is talking about the hypothetical day of judgment, I don’t really expect the books I’ve read to be of much interest to God.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 20, 2014 1:02 p.m.

    RE: Semi-Strong ,”I do not look for science to prove my faith to be correct. But neither do I worry about it proving my faith wrong.”

    Gary Habermas,”I think it is very clear that the Mormon case is highly problematic on the basis of the evidence alone. During my questioning days, I checked out the Mormon claims in some details, visited their facilities in Salt Lake City and reading their materials. Even though I was very open to it, I had to reject the possibility that Joseph Smith received revelation from God, strictly on the basis of their own claims and lack of evidence.“

    i.e..The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the thief on the cross was to be with Jesus Christ "in the world of spirits" (he did not say paradise or heaven)??

    The Inspired Version(Luke 23:44 JST) agrees with Luke, 23:43 NET, NIV, The Lord Jesus told the thief on the cross he would join Him in Paradise that same day . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” .(Luke 23:46)

  • Open Minded Mormon Everett, 00
    March 20, 2014 1:16 p.m.

    The Supreme Scientist of the Universe is God.
    God is the Supreme Scientist of the Universe.

    Be willing to receive the truth,
    let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. ~ Brigham Young

    I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it. ~ Brigham Young

    God has revealed all the truth that is now in the possession of the world, whether it be scientific or religious. The whole world are under obligation to him for what they know and enjoy; they are indebted to him for it all, and I acknowledge him in all things ~ Brigham Young

    Our religion is simply the truth. It is all said in this one expression—it embraces all truth, wherever found, in all the works of God and man that are visible or invisible to mortal eye ~ Brigham Young

    If you deny Science & Truth -- you deny God.

  • John Marx Layton, UT
    March 20, 2014 1:29 p.m.

    The column seems to me to be mostly an appeal to authority of sorts. So-and-So changed his mind. But ultimately it's the arguments that matter, not who believes them, or if someone changed their mind. An atheist changing their mind doesn't change the strength of the fine-tuning arguments anymore than someone leaving Mormonism changes the strength of the arguments for or against Mormonism.
    The column I think has a problem with double standards. You could easily turn the tables, and say that a knowledgeable Mormon left Mormonism and that should cause Mormons to take a pause and reconsider the arguments(which is implying of course that they haven't done that just as Peterson implied atheists haven't considered the arguments against atheism).
    Or here is a crazy idea. Everyone should occasionally reevaluate what they believe, and the reasons that they believe them. Giving the arguments against their case serious consideration.

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    March 20, 2014 2:16 p.m.

    When it comes to evidence supporting belief in God (in general) and Jesus Christ in particular, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints look to the personal witness of communication from God given by people like Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and the ten other witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Additional people affirmed revelatory experiences shared with others. We LDS affirm our own personal experiences of revelation. Our belief in God's existence is not a deduction, but based on personal experience of ourselves and others. And those personal experiences affirm the basic validity of the Bible narrative. We believe we have more, and more direct, evidence of the reality of God and Christ than other Christians. Many of us, or our ancestors, were drawn to Mormonism because they already believed in Christ, and were attracted to these affirmations of His reality and concern for mankind. We include scientists and people with education in all disciplines who reject the notion that human science already knows all there is to reality.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 20, 2014 3:07 p.m.

    RE, Coltakashi, When it comes to evidence supporting belief in God (in general) and Jesus Christ in particular, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    I think it is very clear that the Mormon case is highly problematic on the basis of the evidence alone. During my questioning days, I checked out the Mormon claims in some details, visited their facilities in Salt Lake City and reading their materials. Even though I was very open to it, I had to reject the possibility that Joseph Smith received revelation from God, strictly on the basis of their own claims and lack of evidence. Gary Habermas,

    RE: Semi-Strong ,”The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the thief on the cross was to be with Jesus Christ "in the world of spirits" (he did not say paradise or heaven)??
    The Inspired Version(Luke 23:44 JST) agrees with Luke, 23:43 NET, NIV, The Lord Jesus told the thief on the cross he would join Him in Paradise that same day . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 20, 2014 4:16 p.m.

    The construct of salvation is that God created us all and wants us to believe in him. Those who do believe in God will be rewarded. Those who do not believe will be punished. Does that idea even make sense?

    Whether it does or not, it is an effective fear device of human beings who wish to control other human beings.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 20, 2014 7:28 p.m.

    Sharrona,

    I know what the LDS teach. But the question was where do YOU think he went? You seemed to indicate Eden.

  • m.g. scott clearfield, UT
    March 21, 2014 7:33 a.m.

    Every time science discoveres new knowledge about our universe, Iam more of a believer that this is from an intelligent designer.

  • happy2bhere clearfield, UT
    March 21, 2014 7:40 a.m.

    Tyler D
    Just as some scientific fact of the day was proved to be wrong, so has some supernatural beliefs been found wrong. One way or the other, the science or the supernal do not clash with truth, only untruth. It would have been supernatural for people living in the 17th century to believe that I here in Utah can communicate with you in Idaho instantly. The supernatural becomes science.

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    March 21, 2014 8:26 a.m.

    @Craig Clark...we agree.

    Fear is a powerful and effective instrument of control. Michael Crichton, in his book State of Fear, said, "Social control is best managed through fear." And religionists and politicians are experts at using fear as an instrument of social control.

    There is a correlation between fear and the amount of power people seek. Since fear invokes a natural human reaction to escape back into our comfort zone, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path away from that fear.

    Since the dawn of modern humans there have always been those willing to offer us relief from our fear, especially fear of the unknown, if we but submit and obey the pathway tenets they have outlined for us. Ironically, these power experts use fear themselves, the same kind of fear they allegedly offer relief from, to shore up their own powerbase. Hell and damnation is the prize for "unbelievers" and those guilty of "disobedience."

    Religions are not all bad...they can certainly provide meaningful contributions to a culture in their role as functional, social institutions. But the influence of fear can have extremely destructive effects for individuals and society.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 21, 2014 9:59 a.m.

    A bit surprised this didn’t turn into a more robust debate.

    @brokenclay especially opened up an interesting thread from the believers perspective that would have been fun to explore.

    As always I enjoy the insightful comments from folks like Weber State and Craig Clark and John Marx now too.

    @ happy2bhere

    Despite our different views I always like your comment and could learn a thing or two from you about tact and how to be a nice guy (gal?).

    @Twin

    You elevate the discussion as always and ditto on what I said above.

    Thanks for the discussion everyone… wish it would have been longer.

  • The Scientist Provo, UT
    March 21, 2014 10:12 a.m.

    We all have our moments. Good days and bad days. Good performances and bad ones. The fact that an atheist has a bad day and allows an evangelical to prevail upon him with a trite, diluted wager in favor of the possibility of deism should not be given more significance than it deserves.

    It is the arguments themselves that matter. In his degenerative mental state, Flew's arguments for a "fine-tuning" theism completely failed to address the devastating arguments he made himself during the zenith of his atheist scholarly career. Flew argued that theistic hypotheses are not falsifiable. The "fine-tuning" teleologies are still not falsifiable. As Flew concluded in his "Theology and Falsification", we ask believers today:

    "What remains of your original (theistic) assertion? How does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive [fine-tuning watchmaker] differ from an imaginary [designer] or even no [designer] at all?"

    Neither the Antony Flew the lesser/elder, nor anyone else (especially LDS) has been able to give mankind a falsifiable theistic hypothesis.

  • Fred Vader Oklahoma City, OK
    March 21, 2014 10:25 a.m.

    The Prophet Joseph taught: “King James’ translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. You may as easily find a needle in a pile of hay. Here is a chance for you to argue with me, ye learned men. There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: then I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries. And Peter says [Jesus] went and preached to the world of spirits (spirits in prison, 1 Pet. 3:19), so that they who would receive it could have it answered by proxy by those who live on the earth, etc.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309.)

  • BigCougar Bountiful, UT
    March 21, 2014 12:01 p.m.

    @John Marx
    "So I have to ask, how would believers respond if the roles were reversed in this way? How compelling would such a column be to you?"

    That happens everyday of the week. I honestly couldn't count the number of stories/personal accounts I've read where people left their faith and decided there is no God.

    My response would be....*yawn*

  • BigCougar Bountiful, UT
    March 21, 2014 12:08 p.m.

    @Weber State Grad
    "There is a correlation between fear and the amount of power people seek. Since fear invokes a natural human reaction to escape back into our comfort zone, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path away from that fear."

    Good comment and very true. T Falcon Napier is a sales and management consultant who developed the Tension Management Institute and uses that very principle of using tension to your advantage and create a sense of loss of control in the life of the person you're selling to. This loss of control is another element of fear that then motivates the person to buy what you're offering as a remedy to their situation. It's very effective. Fear is a very powerful agent for change.

  • John Marx Layton, UT
    March 21, 2014 4:05 p.m.

    BigCougar, you wrote,

    "That happens everyday of the week. I honestly couldn't count the number of stories/personal accounts I've read where people left their faith and decided there is no God.

    My response would be....*yawn*"

    Well that's my point. It's a double standard. If believers don't care, why should it count when the roles are reversed?

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 22, 2014 9:28 a.m.

    RE: Twin, Jesus went “into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9), to Sheol/Hades, “in the heart of the earth,” for three days and nights “while his Body was in the Grave” (Mat. 12:40)

    @Fred Vader, Paradise( paradeisos, G# 3857)was in Sheol/Hades at that time referred to as Abraham’s Bosom in Luke 16. After Jesus Christ rose from the dead He ascended to the Father, taking the saints who were in Abraham’s Bosom to heaven with Him. He took “captivity captive” (see Eph. 4:8-10).

    In the Morning He says to Mary ,“Touch me not”; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: (John 20:17),
    Yet that same evening He appears to His disciples and says ,… “handle(touch) me”(Luke 24:39)
    Sometime during the day, He went to heaven in a “Fulfillment of Type presented’ *the blood upon the mercy seat’ of heaven.

    In Rom. 3:25 Greek hilasterion (KJV, "mercy-seat") is used for The day of Atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled with it the "mercy-seat”,and made propitiation.

  • antodav TAMPA, FL
    March 22, 2014 10:03 a.m.

    Science can’t definitively prove the existence of God, but it can hardly disprove it either. If someone wants to believe the entire universe emerged spontaneously, in all of its complexity, without any sort of assistance whatsoever from any grand creator, that’s fine.

    Frankly, I think that’s a point of view that requires a great deal of faith and suspension of disbelief to accept, but whatever. Everyone has the right to believe in whatever the want to believe in, even if what they want is to believe in nothing at all.

    Also, atheism has, ironically, very little room for divergence of opinions and thoughts than many religions do, particularly Mormonism. “Dogma” is probably stronger in atheism than it was for centuries during the height of the Catholic Church’s power in Europe. At least there is no “Inquisition” for atheism, except in communist countries of course.

  • Jeff Temple City, CA
    March 22, 2014 6:02 p.m.

    I was an atheist at one time. I am a thorough-going theist now, for two reasons.

    First, atheism struck me finally as illogical. It is a tautology, usually: "There is no God because I don't believe in Him," or an absurdity: "I don't believe in God because I don't like the way He manages things."

    Second, after a long and difficult struggle, I had personal experiences with God. I know experientially that there is a God. I have had multiple experiences. I also know, experientially that God loves me. Again, I have had multiple experiences.

    My atheist friends occasionally ask me to elaborate the experiences and I decline (as I will here) because they are simply not for public consumption.

    Now, having begun as an atheist and having ended a theist, I find that rather than waste my personal time on the question of the existence of God, I turn rather to the question of the will of God, which is, I believe, a much more fulfilling question.

  • Stormwalker Cleveland , OH
    March 22, 2014 6:45 p.m.

    Grasping at a very thin straw, Peterson indicates his faith was somehow affirmed by Flew, who in 2004 told reporter Richard Ostling of the Associated press, "I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins."

    Believing in the petty, tantrum throwing god of the Bible is not rational, scientific, or reasonable. While believers say that god is a "loving father," the stories describe a self-centered and arbitrary sociopath.

    While there might be some valid basis to see a "Prime Mover" of some sort at the beginning of time, the idea that it would be the god of a Bronze Age tribe boggles reason.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 24, 2014 8:13 a.m.

    "While believers say that god is a "loving father," the stories describe a self-centered and arbitrary sociopath."
    ______________________________

    Blame human understanding and human institutions including the Christian church for how God has been perceived down through the centuries. What they have to go on is the world they've come to know through what they see around them. A more intelligent understanding of what God might be is a much deeper challenge to human imagination and openness to reason.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    March 24, 2014 9:17 a.m.

    Open Minded Mormon

    Please don't quote Brigham Young, as we have all heard people dismiss other statements of his as merely opinion. You can't use his quotes as if they are doctrine when it helps your argument and dismiss other quotes of his when it contradicts your argument.