While I was away relaxing in my “traveler’s lodging place,” I had the opportunity to read Antony Flew‘s latest book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 2007). The book is a personal account of how Flew, an atheist for more than fifty years, came to accept the fact that God exists.
On May 2004, at a symposium at New York University, Antony Flew, one of the better known atheists of the twentieth century, surprised the atheist world by announcing that, after much study and reflection, he has now come to accept the existence of God.
The news of Flew’s change of mind caught many people by surprise since he had spent most of his life defending atheism and writing books and articles debunking the religious arguments for the existence of God. As a philosopher, Flew had accepted the Socratic principle of following the evidence wherever it may lead. Faithful to this principle, Flew announced that recent developments in science has led him to the conclusion that the evidence affirms the existence of God.
Antony Flew was born into a Christian family. His father was a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church and taught New Testament at the Methodist theological college in Cambridge. Flew attended Kingswood School, a school founded by John Wesley dedicated to the education of the sons of Methodist pastors. Flew began his studies at Kingswood as a believer and by the time he graduated, he was an atheist.
Many factors contributed to Flew’s journey toward atheism. In his book, There Is a God, Flew wrote (p. 13):
“I have said in some of my later atheist writings that I reached the conclusion about the nonexistence of God much too quickly, much too easily, and for what later seemed to me wrong reasons.”
One of the reasons that led Flew to embrace atheism at the age of fifteen was the problem of evil. Flew gave two reasons why the problem of evil affirms the nonexistence of God:
1. The problem of evil was a decisive disproof of the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God.
2. The “free will defense” did not relieve the Creator of responsibility for the manifest ills of creation.
Later on in his academic life, Flew called these two reasons “juvenile insistencies.”
Many atheists point to the problem of evil in the world as one evidence to deny the existence of God. Flew is aware that evil and suffering are real. Flew deals with both. He wrote (p. 156):
“Certainly, the existence of evil and suffering must be faced. However, philosophically speaking, that is a separate issue from the question of God’s existence. From the existence of nature, we arrive at the ground of its existence. Nature may have its imperfections, but this says nothing as to whether it had an ultimate Source. Thus, the existence of God does not depend on the existence of warranted or unwarranted evil.”
Three scientific issues contributed to Flew’s pilgrimage back to theism. Flew formulates these three issues in the form of questions (p. 91):
1. How did the laws of nature come to be?
2. How did life as a phenomenon originate from nonlife?
3. How did the universe, by which we mean all that is physical, come into existence?
In the next few days, I will be examining how Flew deals with these three questions. His pilgrimage toward theism and his search of the evidence for God’s existence will become a challenge for those who still affirm that there is no God. I will be examining Flew’s quest with the following posts:
1. The Origin of Life and the Existence of God.
2. The Big Bang Theory and the Existence of God.
3. The Laws of Nature and the Existence of God.
The three posts will present a brief overview of how Flew tries to answer the three questions that lingered in his mind even when he was defending atheism. In the end, these posts will be an invitation to readers to read the book and join Flew in his journey toward God.
Antony Flew, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 2007.
After you finish reading this post, read Charles Halton’s comment and follow the link he provides to an article published in the New York Times Magazine in which the author is critical of the way Flew’s book was written. In light of Charles’ comment and the charges made by the author of the article, I have decided to write a postscript after I finish my review of Flew’s book and address the charges made in the article.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Studies on Antony Flew