God is nowhere

The Compass - - OPINION -

Please al­low me to ask you some deep and prob­ing ques­tions. How many angels can stand or, for that mat­ter, dance, on the head of a pin? Can God cre­ate a boul­der too big for him to lift? Is he able to cre­ate two ad­ja­cent moun­tains, with no val­ley in be­tween? Can he grab a bald­headed man by the hair of his head? (Please, no jokes about the fol­licly-chal­lenged!)

Th­ese ques­tions are meant to be noth­ing more than ex­am­ples of a te­dious and mean­ing­less con­cern with ir­rel­e­vant de­tails.

Some peo­ple may be in­clined to as­sign the ques­tion of God’s ex­is­tence to the same cat­e­gory as th­ese im­pon­der­ables. How­ever, to do so would be, in my opin­ion, a griev­ous mis­take.

Pro­claim­ing God’s

ex­is­tence

If a fun­da­men­tal­ist pas­tor were to stand in her pul­pit on any given Sun­day and de­clare to her peo­ple, “I be­lieve in the ex­is­tence of God,” it would be no big deal. In­deed, it would be trite. Such a dec­la­ra­tion is only to be ex­pected from one who es­pouses the fun­da­men­tal­ist be­lief sys­tem.

How­ever, if a pro­fes­sional philoso­pher were to pub­licly pro­claim to all and sundry that he now be­lieves in the ex­is­tence of God, per­haps this would be an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter. And, I might add, not just any philoso­pher. I am re­fer­ring to one philoso­pher in par­tic­u­lar who, through­out his en­tire adult life, had ad­vo­cated athe­ism. Now that he iden­ti­fies him­self as a be­liever in God, Bur­ton K.

Janes

bur­tonj@nfld.net

Just Won­der­ing...

should we not sit up and take no­tice of what he says? There may be a healthy serv­ing of food for thought in his re­vised as­ser­tions.

Please con­sider with me the re­cent case of An­thony Flew.

Fo­cus­ing on Flew

Flew, the son of a Methodist cler­gy­man, was born in Lon­don, Eng­land, in 1923. He em­braced athe­ism at 15 years of age. He be­came, without ques­tion, the best-known athe­ist in the English-speak­ing world. As an un­der­grad­u­ate at Ox­ford, he of­ten at­tended the So­cratic Club, an open fo­rum for dis­cussing the in­tel­lec­tual dif­fi­cul­ties con­nected with re­li­gion in gen­eral and Chris­tian­ity in par­tic­u­lar.

His renowned 1950 es­say, “The­ol­ogy and Fal­si­fi­ca­tion,” be­came the most widely reprinted philo­soph­i­cal pub­li­ca­tion of the sec­ond part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. It laid the ground­work for mod­ern athe­ism. In over 30 books, he de­vel­oped novel ar­gu­ments against God’s ex­is­tence. Specif­i­cally, Flew asked, “How can re­li­gious state­ments make mean­ing­ful claims?”

Mean­while, de­spite his avowed athe­ism, he de­ter­mined to faith­fully live out the So­cratic prin­ci­ple of “fol­low­ing the ev­i­dence wher­ever it may lead.”

Imag­ine the ut­ter amaze­ment

While I am un­able to prove God’s ex­is­tence to you, I am able to demon­strate that the eter­nal and ethe­real quest for the di­vine is an honor­able pur­suit.

of the aca­demic world in 2004, when An­thony G.N. Flew, the pro­to­typ­i­cal athe­ist, pub­licly re­nounced athe­ism and em­braced the ex­is­tence of God!

Cram­ming for his fi­nals?

I must ad­mit that, when I first heard about Flew’s about-face, the cyn­i­cal part of me im­me­di­ately kicked in. I said to my­self, “He must be ‘cram­ming for his fi­nals.’ Af­ter all, he’s in his eight­ies and prob­a­bly mere steps from the grave. He must have taken ‘Pas­cal’s Wa­ger’.” Ac­cord­ing to this view, even though God’s ex­is­tence can­not be proved through rea­son, a per­son should “wa­ger” as though he ex­ists, be­cause so liv­ing has ev­ery­thing to gain and noth­ing to lose.

I would have con­tin­ued to feel this way about Flew’s change of mind but for one sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­a­tion, touched on ear­lier. De­spite his avowed athe­ism, Flew de­ter­mined to faith­fully live out the So­cratic prin­ci­ple of “fol­low­ing the ev­i­dence wher­ever it may lead.” This was the pur­suit of his en­tire life, beginning in his teenage years. An in­vet­er­ate seeker af­ter truth, he con­sis­tently al­lowed his mind to go wher­ever he be­lieved the ev­i­dence led. He has now con­cluded that the evi-

dence leads con­clu­sively to God.

Flew tells the story of his “con­ver­sion” in There is a God: How the World’s Most No­to­ri­ous Athe

ist Changed His Mind, writ­ten with Roy Abra­ham Vargh­ese, one of the most chal­leng­ing books I have read in re­cent years.

In the first sec­tion, Flew ex­plains what and why he be­lieved be­fore the “change.” In the sec­ond, he de­scribes his dis­cov­ery of God.

A thorny prob­lem

Many fac­tors con­trib­uted to Flew’s loss of be­lief in the God of his preacher fa­ther. One rea­son was the ever-ag­o­niz­ing prob­lem of evil, which Flew avers, “pre­sented an in­escapable chal­lenge to the ex­is­tence of an all-pow­er­ful God of love.”

I can­not fault Flew for be­ing trou­bled about the prob­lem of evil. There is an ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion be­tween the fol­low­ing propo­si­tions: If God ex­ists and if God is all good and all pow­er­ful, then what are we to make of the bru­tal re­al­ity that evil ex­ists in the world? I too am deeply trou­bled by the pres­ence of evil in the light of a benev­o­lent God. The two do not seem to be­long to­gether.

To be per­fectly hon­est with you, I am un­able to prove the ex­is­tence of God. (Sorry to dis­ap­point you!) Oh, yes, I can pro­vide you with all the tra­di­tional “proofs” for his ex­is­tence. For ex­am­ple, the claim that God doesn’t ex­ist makes no more sense than the claim that four-sided tri­an­gles do. Sec­ond, from noth­ing, comes noth­ing; the uni­verse sim­ply can­not have popped into ex­is­tence un­caused. Third, the uni­verse is ex­actly as it needs to be for hu­man be­ings to flour­ish. Fourth, moral­ity con­sists of a set of au­thor­i­ta­tive com­mands; only God could is­sue such com­mands. But such “proofs” typ­i­cally work only for those who are al­ready con­vinced of God’s ex­is­tence.

An hon­ourable pur­suit

While I am un­able to prove God’s ex­is­tence to you, I am able to demon­strate that the eter­nal and ethe­real quest for the di­vine is an honor­able pur­suit. Flew’s dis­cov­ery of God fol­lows what he dubs “a pil­grim­age of rea­son.”

Ad­mit­tedly, Flew is not now a the­ist (one who be­lieves in the ex­is­tence and supremacy of a tran­scen­dent and per­sonal God who cre­ates, main­tains and gov­erns the world). In­stead, he is a deist (one who be­lieves that God is the cre­ator of the world, but he does not main­tain an in­ter­est in his cre­ation).

That An­thony Flew now be­lieves in God may not change the mind of other athe­ists. To be per­fectly hon­est, whether or not God ex­ists is a mat­ter of per­sonal choice. Ob­vi­ously the ti­tle of my col­umn, “God is nowhere,” can be read two ways: “God is no where” and “God is now here.” It is all a mat­ter of per­sonal per- spec­tive. Break­ing the word at the ap­pro­pri­ate junc­ture makes a world of dif­fer­ence in the mean­ing. Like­wise, per­spec­tive has a role to play in the de­bate about God’s ex­is­tence.

Whether one ac­cepts deism or the­ism is strictly a per­sonal mat­ter. But the per­sonal quest for the re­al­ity of God is an in­tel­lec­tu­ally re­spectable pur­suit. A pil­grim­age of rea­son, ac­com­pa­nied by a will­ing­ness to fol­low the ev­i­dence on its in­ex­orable course, need not be a cul-de-sac. In­deed, I would chal­lenge the reader to do no less than to prac­tice the So­cratic prin­ci­ple of “fol­low­ing the ev­i­dence wher­ever it may lead.” It may or may not lead to be­lief in the ex­is­tence of God. But the ex­pe­ri­ence, ei­ther way, will be one of eter­nal con­se­quences. Such a search can lead to some rather star­tling re­sults.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Flew ends his book this way: “Some­day I might hear a Voice that says, ‘Can you hear me now?’ “

Ap­pre­ci­a­tion to The Com­pass

On a per­sonal note, I ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity af­forded me to write this col­umn for the last five weeks. Thank you for read­ing my ar­ti­cles and to those of you who re­sponded. I am grate­ful to the ed­i­tors of The Com­pass for al­low­ing me to won­der pub­licly about cer­tain mat­ters which have oc­cu­pied my mind for most of the last half cen­tury.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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