Monday, May 15, 2006

Antony Flew at Biola University?!

When I was an undergraduate philosophy major one of the things I had to read was the atheist Antony Flew’s famous article against the existence of God entitled “Theology and Falsification.” In the year 2000 reprinted an anniversary edition of Flew’s essay here.

The essay begins with Flew’s infamous “parable of the gardener.” It reads: “Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they, set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not he seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the Sceptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?"

Flew then goes on to interpret this parable for us. He concludes: “When the Sceptic in the parable asked the Believer, "just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?" he was suggesting that the Believer's earlier statement had been so eroded by qualification that it was no longer an assertion at all.” In other words, the assertion that there is a Gardener (i.e., God) is not an assertion (or a statement) at all. Which means: it is not a logical proposition with any truth value because it could never be falsified.

With this essay and other writings Flew became, arguably, the most famous atheist of the 20th century. And atheists gladly claimed Flew as one of their champions.

But something happened a few years ago, and Flew changed his mind about atheism. In 2004 he relinquished his long-held atheism and claimed that the natural sciences supplied evidence for the existence of a designing intelligence. Flew said that he simply “had to go where the evidence leads.” Ironically, the atheist who said that the "garden" gave no evidence of there being a "Gardener" was led "by the evidence" to believe the universe gave evidence of design, hence the existence of a Designer.

This past weekend Flew accepted the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth on May 11 from Biola University, a Christian university in Southern California. The Biola website states that “when informed that he was this year’s award winner, he remarked, ‘In light of my work and publications in this area and the criticism I’ve received for changing my position, I appreciate receiving this award.’”

Having followed Flew’s work ever since first being exposed to him back in the 1970s, the thought of him accepting any kind of award at a Christian university just astounds me.