How an atheist changed his mind
I have heard Antony Flew’s name many times over the years, because every time that I would read about a Christian apologist, it seemed that Antony Flew’s name would come up as his atheist antagonist. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened my newspaper in December 2004 and read the news that Antony Flew had changed his mind and decided that he DID believe in God. What a Christmas gift to the Christian world! But was it really true? I later read that while Flew now believes in God, he has not accepted Christianity. I wondered, what caused this change, and where was he now in his thinking?
Thus I read Flew’s book There Is A God (HarperOne, 2007), with great interest to know what caused such an outspoken atheist scholar to change his mind. I was not disappointed.
While the book is only 160 pages (plus two appendices by other authors), it is thorough and deep in its content. Flew tells his own story of how he, the son of a Methodist minister in Britain, became an atheist out of disillusionment with how God could allow evil, particularly as he saw the atrocities in Nazi Germany in World War II. Flew went on to become a professor of philosophy and a writer of many influential books espousing atheism, teaching in universities in Great Britain, Canada, and finally in the United States, where he now resides. He followed the thinking of skeptics like David Hume, arguing that we must presume atheism is true and believers must prove there is a God.
So how did this atheist scholar convert to theism? Flew explains that one belief he has always held led to the change– his belief in the words of Socrates: “We must follow the argument wherever it leads.” (p. 22). As he debated and argued the issues with Christians, he gradually changed his mind as he “followed the argument” for three basic reasons, which form three of the chapters of the book:
1) The laws of nature indicate they were designed by the Mind of God. Flew quotes Paul Davies: “even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a lawlike order in nature” (p. 107).
2) The finely-tuned universe that delicately balances life indicates it was designed by a Creator for us. He points out, for example, that if the speed of light or the mass of an electron had been the slightest degree different, then no planet would be capable of human life (p. 115).
3) The origin of life itself, with the amazingly complex communication systems of DNA cannot be explained by materialistic evolution, and only make sense if designed by God.
In addition to these three major reasons, Flew also cites the big-bang theory as scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning (p. 136). As for the problem of evil, Flew leaves the question open, but prefers the popular Christian explanation that “evil is always a possibility if human beings are truly free” (p. 156).
So has Antony Flew become a Christian? The best answer is not yet, but he is leaning that way. He says, “I am entirely open to learning more about the divine” (p. 156) and then he expresses his admiration for the person of Jesus Christ and the intellect of the apostle Paul, saying that if you want an omnipotent God “to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!” (p. 157).
The book has an appendix by Roy Abraham Varghese, giving a critique of the “new atheism” of bold writers such as Richard Dawkins. Appendix A is good, but even better is Appendix B by N. T. Wright, which explains why we should believe in Jesus Christ. Wright convincingly argues for belief in the authenticity of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a way that impresses Flew himself as “absolutely fresh.” (p. 213).
I would agree. As much as I enjoyed Flew’s book, I must say that Appendix B by N.T. Wright was worth the price of the book. My prayer is that Antony Flew will finally follow the argument of Wright as it leads him to embrace the claims of Jesus Christ on his life.