We don’t embarrass letter-writers by using their full names unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures, but this one is a preacher: Elizabeth Afffsprung, described as an ordained Presbyterian minister. That’s surprising, because according to the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution, Presbyterians aren’t a creationist denomination. This is her church’s website: First Presbyterian Church of Sunbury.
We’ll give you a few excerpts from her letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!
In 2007, Antony Flew published a slender volume, titled “There IS a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” He was a preacher’s kid, declared himself an atheist at age 15, and wrote articles and books between 1950 and 1971 that made him the scholarly precursor to such famous names as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
Flew was the Mr. Spock of atheism, saying that logically one must presuppose that there is no god, unless and until hard evidence turns up. He demanded empirical, that is, experimental evidence. The hard evidence that changed Flew’s mind came from recent discoveries in physics, cosmology, and genetics, and Flew had the courage to say so: first, at a public debate in 2004, and then in print.
We remember. There was a lot of excitement in creationist circles at the time, notwithstanding that the opinion of one elderly philosopher doesn’t turn science on it’s head. As we said in an old post where the subject was raised:
Flew seems to have lost it near the end. Very sad. The so called “fine tuning” argument is no more persuasive than is the apparent design of living organisms. We suspect that in due course, the marvel of fine tuning will be seen as the inevitable consequence of some fundamental but as yet undiscovered principle which makes it impossible for the constants of a universe to be anything other than the ones we see. We can’t be certain of that, of course, but there’s no evidence for any universe being “tuned” in some other way, so it’s absurd to say there’s anything remarkable about the constants in this universe.
Rev. Elizabeth talks about Flew and the Big Bang for a while, and that part of her letter ends on a reasonable note, with this:
But there is evidence for the Big Bang: its momentum is still around. Although we cannot feel it, the universe is still expanding. Galaxies are measurably speeding away from one another. That unfolding expansion directs our attention back to the inception-point of the cosmos, which in turn raises in reasonable minds the question of creation. It doesn’t prove a creator, but it makes the question pretty unavoidable.
Fair enough, she’s just raising a question. But she keeps doing it. Let’s read on:
Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson first put it this way: it is almost as if “the universe knew we were coming. … The laws that characterize our actual universe seem almost contrived, fine-tuned some commentators have claimed, so that life and consciousness may emerge.”
Okay, now she’s quote-mining. Dyson is no creationist. Then she quotes someone else about fine tuning, after which she says:
The universe seems so finely-tuned, such a perfect equipoise of matter and energy, that it evokes once again the question of a great and purposeful Mind behind it all. As the notorious atheist Antony Flew came to believe, there is now enough hard evidence to tilt the balance in favor of God. This is really newsworthy, and debatable of course. Google some of this and see what you think.
We’ll say this for Rev. Elizabeth: she can be annoying, but she’s not too pushy about it. Then she says something quite reasonable:
Now, we have to be wary of using God as a hypothesis to fill in the blanks left by science. If we do that, obviously the space left for God will get smaller and smaller, as science discovers more. This is reason to avoid what philosophers call “the god of the gaps.” Nor does any of this prove that God exists.
Here’s one more excerpt from near the end:
But experimental science today pushes us toward questions that science itself cannot answer. They may be questions we want to avoid: of ultimate realities, our place in the cosmos, right and wrong, meaning and purpose. Science can never answer the question of God for us. But it sure looks like Somebody wants us to ask that question, Somebody who left fingerprints everywhere, for those with eyes to see them. Antony Flew was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge those divine fingerprints.
That’s about it. Rev. Elizabeth seems to be a creationist — possibly of the intelligent design variety — but she doesn’t try to ram it down your throat. Nevertheless, she insists on raising her questions, knowing that she doesn’t have any evidence to support her preferred answers. But what’s the point? Any 12-year-old can ask pesky questions about the things she preaches and that she undoubtedly believes, but for which she has no evidence at all.
So we’ll leave Rev. Elizabeth with one bit of Curmudgeonly advice: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
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