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Blog Book Review:There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew

Questions: How does the “conversion” of a notorious atheist strengthen your faith? What are the most important philosophical questions regarding the existence of God? What are the most important pieces of scientific evidence in this debate?

Antony Flew was a leading philosopher and atheist of the mid
to late twentieth century. He taught at several distinguished schools,
including Oxford, Aberdeen, and Reading. He also taught at Bowling Green State
Universtiy, near my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. He passed away in April of this
year.

In There is a God,
Flew lays out his journey from atheism to deism, briefly sketching each of the
arguments that influenced the evolution of his thought. Because I am not a
philosopher, I will not attempt to summarize those arguments here. The book
itself is short enough (less than 220 pages) and colloquial enough to not be
overwhelming. Many of us may need a Philosophical Dictionary nearby to
understand some of the terms, but most folks can easily follow the arc of the
story.

The book is a narrative rather than a philosophical
treatise, and it tells the story of Flew’s life as it pertains to the issue of
the question of God. He tells tales of his many interactions with Christian and
Theist philosophers in debates and dialogues. While there was no singular
moment of illumination, it was the cumulative effect of these interactions
which brought him to his “conversion.” (I put conversion in quotes because he
did not become a Christian, so far as I know. He simply came to believe in a
“divine Mind”.)

The “conversion” sent a shockwave through the philosophical
and atheistic communities. Flew was a pillar of atheism, one of the greatest
minds and most ardent defenders of the “faith”. His admission of the existence
of a divine Mind was too much for some to bear. There were accusations that the
co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese, manipulated Flew, by then an old man, into
publishing this book. While Flew admitted that Varghese did the actual writing,
he asserted that the thoughts were his. In the years leading up to his death,
Flew publicly declared, again and again, that he had become a deist (and denied
becoming a Christian or a Theist).

The guiding principle of Flew’s life, and the through line
of this book, is the Aristotelian line, “follow the argument wherever it
leads.” It was his commitment to this ideal that ultimately led him out of
atheism and into belief in a divine Mind. The primary evidence, as laid out in
his book, is the complexity of DNA and the lack of a naturalistic explanation
for the evolution of reproductive capability. These issues led him to belief in
a divine Mind, which of course is not all the way to the Christian Creator God,
but is a large leap of faith for an atheist of his stature.

The book includes two appendices, one by Varghese and the
other by N.T. Wright. While Flew was “converted” to the concept of a divine
Mind, he did not believe in divine revelation, though he was open to being
convinced. Of all the religions claiming divine revelation, he thought
Christianity to be the only one worth noting.

“I think that the Christian religion is the one religion
that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim
to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a
charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. …If
you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat.”
(185-6)

Wright’s contribution is a brief but potent sketch of his defense
for the existence of Jesus, his divinity, and the historicity of the
resurrection. This alone is worth the price of the book, and if you’ve never
read Wright (what are you waiting for?!), will give you a solid introduction to
his three large volumes on Jesus.

I don’t know where Antony Flew stood on the issues Wright
raised when he died in April. There’s something oddly refreshing, for me at
least, that his book was about his conversion to deism and not to evangelical
Christianity. It seems more honest that way, I guess. But of course I hope that
he came to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, and to receive the forgiveness
offered him from the cross.

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