Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Science helped change views of prominent atheist’

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Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

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John Marx
Layton, UT

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

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

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

Semi-Strong
Louisville, KY

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

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

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

@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

@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

--- 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

"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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

happy2bhere
clearfield, UT

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

@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.

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