December 10, 2004

Deist revival

I found this story, about an 81 year old atheist deciding that in fact he's a deist, fairly interesting:

A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

The rest is worth reading as well, but what caught my eye is that a reasonably intelligent, non-specialist in biology or zoology or botany has concluded that given a choice between evolutionary theory as it exists today and a first cause or demiurge or divinity, he'd pick the latter. I'm not sure whether this is a fault of biological scientists or the science itself; I can say that I found, for example, last month's Was Darwin Wrong? feature in the National Geographic not especially impressive. It's all well and good to restate the basics of the theory -- I find them compelling -- but to do so without any attempt to offer responses to objections of evolutions various critics (many of whom, I presume, would, like Flew, prefer rational explanations), to do so without even acknowledging that there are thoughtful objections, didn't impress me.

Posted by Ideofact at December 10, 2004 12:41 AM

This is an interesting development.

I read an abstract of a scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, in which the author claimed that the prevailing theories for the "Cambrian explosion" (large number of species appearing in the Cambrian rocks, with few related species just below) were inadequate.

The article generated a lot of hype in certain circles, because it claimed that each evolution-oriented theory had a significant problem, and didn't posit a new theory to explain the problem--except for some form of intelligent design.

I am trying to follow it, and ignore cries of "Creationist zealot!" vs. "Closed-mind atheist!"

So far, not much has turned up. But this comment by a traditional atheist is very interesting. It may be that the (apparent?) consensus in favor of atheism, among scientists and philosophers, is crumbling.

Posted by: steve h at December 10, 2004 11:52 AM

It may be that the (apparent?) consensus in favor of atheism, among scientists and philosophers, is crumbling.

on the scientists, not unless something has happened in the past 6 years.

Prominent American Natural Scientists - N.A.S. members (1998, sample size ~ 250) and "eminent" scientists in 1914 & 1933
Believe in personal God?
Yes No Not sure

1914 27.7% 52.7% 20.9%
1933 15.0% 68.0% 17.0%
1998 7.00% 72.2% 20.8%

many of whom, I presume, would, like Flew, prefer rational explanations

who besides flew? from what i gather flew is a deist, he believes in some sort of super-intelligence, but this is a far cry from the intelligent design advocates. william dembski for example is a big proponent of intelligent design (via information theory) but in a recent book he ended up offering why the intelligent designer was probably the christian god! here is an old post of mine where i surveyed the backgrounds of the "access research network" folk, many are philosophers, only a few life scientists.

there are plenty of christian scientists, kenneth miller of finding darwin's god is a catholic, and he ended up offering a quantum explanation for how god might intervene in the world. this is fine i suppose, though i'm not sure if he really seriously considers this as a scientific as opposed to a religious hypothesis intelligible in the light of his personal beliefs.

Posted by: razib at December 11, 2004 04:57 AM

The human brain seems to be hard wired to believe in an explanation for our existence and, since the origin is unknowable, we are predisposed to belief in a divinity. This is normal and entirely human. I find it funny, however, when people who are otherwise intelligent attempt to use logic to explain this belief, which is, by definition, irrational, i.e. without thought.

Any discussion of the chicken and egg type must assume one of two starting points, and good logic will support either one. And, by the same token, neither one. If we attempt to explain the origin of our existence by positing a diety, we beg the question of the origin of the diety itself. Maybe the diety created the universe, but who created the diety? Just as the egg could lave been laid by a non-chicken, maybe the diety was the product of an evolutionary process.

Darwin's theory of evolution may have some serious flaws, but any other explanation has serious flaws as well. We can see changes in a species, but can we detect a species' origins? In the end, we are no further along in finding the truth about the existence of God than Lucy was two million years ago.

Posted by: Michael Gersh at December 15, 2004 12:03 PM