notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden

Christmas Eve 2004

Atheists believe that there is no God. A very prominent Atheist is a British philosophy professor called Anthony Flew. He has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century. A Methodist minister’s son, Flew became an atheist at 15. Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article “Theology and Falsification,” based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Another member of the club was JRR Tolkein, author of Lord of The Rings. Dr Flew became as popular in atheist circles as much as Lewis and Tolkein did in Christian.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous US and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates. But now after decades of insisting belief in God is a mistake, at the age of 81, the emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe, and that a super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature.

Biologists’ 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,” Flew says in the new video, “Has Science Discovered God?”
It is important to stress that it is science which has moved him to believe that there is a god, it is based on scientific evidence.

He has now become so convinced that life could not have started or been passed on without a “prime mover” that he is writing a new introduction to his book God and Philosophy. First published in 1966, it is being reissued next year. He has accused the atheist Richard Dawkins, the author of The Blind Watchmaker and other books that argue against religion, of ignoring Darwin’s belief that life was “breathed” into the first organism. “Darwin doesn’t say by whom, but it is pretty obvious what he meant.” Professor Flew agreed that the first life was breathed by God. “Well, I suppose so, yes,” he said. The theory that the enormous complexity of a living thing that was able to reproduce genetically could happen by accident was “just not on”. “No one has produced any theory for the origin of life, and this [reproduction] is much more complex than that.”
“It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism,” he wrote.

So from saying that there was no evidence for God, at the age of 81, the professor says that science has shown us, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), intelligence must have been involved.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew. Flew said. ”My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” So there we have it, belief in God is common sense, and something to which rational scientific evidence should point us. But of course it is not as easy as that. People are not moved by facts or clever scientific discoveries and professor Flew has not suddenly started attending his local church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He has been forced by the facts to concede that there is a god, but what form that god might take is a very different matter.

But, If there is a God, then what is God like?

Can this god be kind or is he some despot who cares not for the creatures he surveys?
I read tonight that 2 more people killed in a truck explosion in Baghdad tonight, 20 injured
Whilst thousands of people are in Manger Square for the annual mass in the Church of the Nativity, Israeli troops killed three people in a shootout with protesters in Gaza. Armed forces are on patrol in Bethlehem along with Palestinian police.
Where is God in all this?

Band Aid have hit no 1 in their hit single do they know its Christmas.
I have always wondered about a line in that song

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

‘Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.’

I have never understood that kind of prayer, a prayer that would thank God that somebody else was suffering instead of me. When we read of war and famine and disaster, should we really thank God that it isn’t us? Surely not, God hasn’t spared us - any more than he has caused the deaths of the people who suffer and die. Do we believe that God is like a puppet master controlling events and making us suffer? That he calls our number when the time is up and despatches the grim reaper to collect souls?

I cannot believe in a God like that,
First of all because a God like that is not worth believing in.
Secondly because God doesn’t intervene and control us like puppets. We have our own selves to blame for the starving in Africa, human being do that, as they go to war in Baghdad and Bethlehem.

This isn’t to say that God is absent from our world and it events, God is around and God does intervene in our world, he did so most clealry 2000 years ago when Jesus was born, but we have to play our part too. God’s presence is there to be known. It was known 2,000 years ago when the baby was born, Jesus, God in our size, a God we could understand. But God’s presence is not compelling we are not hypnotised into belief.
It is uncompelling because we can all look and see different things. Shepherds in the fields over Bethlehem could have seen angels and stars, or just another cold night. Magi could have been moved to worship at the sight of that star, or compelled to kill the baby like Herod.

Would you and I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of the traders in the market place?
It’s the same as tonight. We celebrate another Christmas tradition, midnight mass. For us we take the bread and wine and know the life of Christ given for us. For those with out faith it is nothing more than Harveys Bristol Cream. It is our faith which makes what we do tonight a fresh encounter with Christ born in us this day.

God offers us alternatives, those with eyes of faith will see the miracle, those with sceptical and unbelieving hearts will go home untouched.
Faith is not about following the facts. People will not be drawn to God because science tells them so. Faith is not about putting our trust in something which we do not have any proof of. Rather, faith is about putting our trust in someone we do not have any proof of. We go forward in faith without any evidence to substantiate our belief, apart from the encounter with God himself. This cannot be measured or analysed, counted or weighed. But God can be known. The baby of Bethlehem, the Saviour of Humankind chooses to reveal himself to us and we can know God afresh this year. May we know the life and peace he brings afresh in all our lives Amen.