Photo: Antony Flew
This is the third post evaluating Antony Flew’s journey toward God. I recommend that you read my first post, “From Atheism to Theism: A Journey Toward God,” before you read this post. The second post was titled “The Origin of Life and the Existence of God.”
Antony Flew was known as one of the most articulate atheists of the twentieth century. His books and articles influenced a generation of atheists who today still use the argument he developed in his book The Presumption of Atheism. That argument states that, in a discussion between a believer and an atheist, atheism should be the default position and that the burden of proof rests with those who believe in God.
In May 2004, Flew made a public announcement that he had changed his mind and had come to the conclusion that he was no longer an atheist. The reason Flew changed his mind was because recent scientific discoveries made in the latter part of the twentieth century tend to affirm the existence of God.
In my last post I presented the first reason Antony Flew changed his mind and came to accept that there is a God.
The first reason Flew presented for changing his mind came out of a question that became the basis for his journey back to God. Flew asked: “How did life as a phenomenon originate from nonlife?” That question led him to evaluate recent works on the origin of life and to his amazement, he discovered that the evidence “pointed to the activity of a creative Intelligence” (p. 74).
Another question that made him embark on his pilgrimage toward theism was the issue “that philosophers handed over to cosmologists: How did the universe, by which we mean all that is physical, come into existence?”
The answer that Flew provides is a reformulation of the old cosmological argument for the existence of God.
Those who deny the cosmological argument affirm that anything that can be known about the origin of life, the nature of the universe, and the laws of nature can be known without admitting the possibility of the existence of a transcendent reality beyond human understanding.
Flew himself was highly involved in attacking the cosmological argument. He even agreed and supported David Hume’s critique of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. However, Flew said (p. 135) that “most of my discussions were carried on independent of developments in modern cosmology. In fact, my two main antitheological books were written long before either the development of the big-bang cosmology or the introduction of the fine-tuning argument from physical constants.”
The cosmology that came out of the big bang theory made an impact on Flew’s understanding of the creation of the universe. With the development of the big bang cosmology in the early 1980s, Flew realized that cosmologists were providing “a scientific proof of what St. Thomas Aquinas contended could not be proved philosophically; namely, that the universe had a beginning” (p. 135).
The more Flew thought about the implications of the big bang the more he began to realize that the words of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” were true (by the way, this is the only biblical text quoted in Flew’s book). As an atheist, Flew believed the universe did not have a beginning and as long as he believed that, there was no reason to ask what caused the universe to come into being.
However, the development of the big bang cosmology changed the situation. Flew wrote: “If the universe had a beginning [with the big bang], it became entirely sensible, almost inevitable, to ask what produced this beginning.”
Flew’s discovery of God has come through an understanding of the structure of the universe. This structure, according to Flew, is a map that leads to the discovery of the Divine. He wrote (p. 155): “I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.”
Many Christians reject the big bang theory. For instance, Jason Lisle, writing in Answers Magazine said that the big bang theory is based on naturalism. He wrote:
Since the philosophy of naturalism does not allow for anything beyond nature, a naturalist would insist that the universe was created by the kinds of processes currently operating within it. The big bang is based on this critical assumption; that is, the big bang model attempts to describe the formation of the entire universe by processes currently operating within the universe. Stars, planets, and galaxies are all said to have formed “naturalistically”-by the laws of nature currently in operation today.
The big bang theory, however, had a different impact on Flew because the theory suggested that the universe had a beginning and if the universe had a beginning then the next question was what or who produced the big bang.
Flew predicted that in trying to explain the big bang, atheists would say that what produced the big bang was beyond human understanding. On the other hand, Flew said that believers would “welcome the big-bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that ‘in the beginning’ the universe was created by God” (p. 136).
The big bang theory shows that the universe had a beginning. A universe without a beginning is a universe without God. Those who affirm that the universe was eternal do not need a God to create it. But, since the universe began with the big bang 14 billion years ago, then what produced the big bang that caused the universe to come into existence? Since space, matter, and time are part of the created order, then the cause for the big bang must be immaterial, it must not be limited by space, and it must not be bound in time.
Because Flew was faithful to the Socratic principle of following the evidence wherever it may lead, it is clear that the cosmology that came out of the big bang theory and the existence of a fine tuned universe set him on a journey that eventually led him to accept the existence of God.
Antony Flew, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 2007.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Studies on Antony Flew