It takes a professional philosopher to choose, of all the arguments for the existence of some kind of god, the most exquisitely wrong:

“A philosophy professor who has been a leading proponent of atheism for more than 50 years has decided that God may exist after all.

“Antony Flew, 81, now believes scientific evidence supports the theory that some sort of intelligence created the universe. But he continues to reject traditional religious ideas of God and especially the idea of salvation after death.

“Speaking in a new video, Has Science Discovered God?, Flew argues that the investigation of DNA “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved.””

Just for the record—and I suspect this is one of those rare occasions when I can say I am speaking not only in a personal capacity, but on behalf of my colleagues and employers—the investigation of DNA has done no such thing. If science is a stately home, then in one room, in one wing there is a cupboard. In the drawer inside the bureau inside that cupboard is the little box devoted to my sub-specialism. If there was even a hint of intelligence behind the origin of life I would expect to find that box empty.

Even from reading his own public correction of exaggerated reports of his theism, Flew is clearly touting a slightly polished variant of the Argument from Design—the one I refer to as the “Argument from Lack of Imagination”. Perhaps he read a special genome edition of Nature and saw the light. This would be ironic, because anyone who has paid close attention to the general results of molecular biology and the sequencing of various species’ genomes should find that the spontaneous emergence of life and its acquisition of complexity to be that much easier to explain than they have ever been. (One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of Darwin’s insights is that he originally made them, not only in an unsympathetic intellectual environment, but in the absence of fundamental knowledge of biological mechanisms underlying the processes he described.)

A couple of other philosophers have dismissed Flew’s conclusion as being trivial—in the sense of being without philosophical consequence. Other professional philosophers could, I think, make a good case against this, but I know that this is not true in the broadest sense of “philosophy”. If I accepted Flew’s conclusion I would stop wondering about the first replicators, alternative forms of life based on different substrates, or the possibility of generating life de novo in the lab, and I would especially stop worrying about the reason why there are both so many different protein structures and so few forms for proteins to fold into. His is a counsel against a class of speculation and, as a natural philosopher, I dismiss it as intellectual cowardice.

There is one excellent practical argument and there is a number of illuminatingly seductive (and broken) philosophical arguments for God. The latter are useful for investigating certain logical fallacies and amusing stoned undergraduates. The former is that believing in God makes you happier. Certain kinds of ignorance can be bliss. I am a sad scientist and Flew has done a piece of bad philosophy. I hereby sentence him to statistics tutorials until the end of time.