Originally posted by SwissGambit
"Former leading atheist argues for the existence of God:
I had never heard of Anthony Flew until he changed his mind.
A review of There is a God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew with Roy Varghese Harper Collins, New York, 2007
"Skeptics often cite ‘testimonies’ of former professing Christians who ‘de-converted’ (apostatized) to atheism to show that Christianity is inherently unreasonable; sure, a person may be raised Christian, but once he is able to reason for himself, the light of rationality will wash away all that religious superstition. Of course, they often ignore or dismiss the conversion stories of former atheists. Antony Flew’s rejection of atheism is a nightmare for skeptics, because the most influential atheistic philosopher of the twentieth century is rather harder to dismiss out-of-hand. Flew documents this intellectual process in "There is a God".
From Christianity to atheism: Flew begins the story of his rejection of atheism by explaining how he became an atheist in the first place. The son of a Methodist minister, Flew went to school as ‘a committed and conscientious, if unenthusiastic, Christian’ (p. 10), but during his studies began to question his faith. The problem of evil caused Flew to question the possibility of an omnipotent God. By the time he was 15, he considered himself an atheist (p. 15), although Flew admits that he ‘reached the conclusion about the nonexistence of God much too quickly, much too easily, and for what later seemed to me the wrong reasons’ (pp. 10–11).
The 20th century’s most influential atheist thinker, Antony Flew, announced in 2004 that he accepted the existence of a God. Flew’s rejection of atheism would not be such a problem for atheists if he hadn’t been the foremost atheist thinker of the 20th century. In Oxford, Flew was part of the Socratic club, a forum for debate between atheists and Christians, of which C.S. Lewis was the president for over a decade. There he presented ‘Theology and Falsification’, a paper which argued that many theological statements have so many qualifications attached that they are essentially empty (pp. 43–44). However, he says, ‘I was not saying that statements of religious belief were meaningless. I simply challenged religious believers to explain how their statements are to be understood, especially in the light of conflicting data’ (p. 45). This 1950 paper sparked many responses, some decades after the paper was presented (p. 47).
In 1971, Flew published The Presumption of Atheism. In his final work dealing with atheism, he argued that as the inherently more rational position, atheism should be presumed at the outset of any debate regarding God’s existence, and the burden of proof should be on the theist (p. 53). He notes that the ‘headiest challenge’ to this argument came from Christian logician Alvin Plantinga, who argued that the belief in God is ‘properly basic’ for believers (p. 55). He clarifies that ‘the presumption of atheism is, at best, a methodological starting point, not an ontological conclusion’, and that the presumption of atheism could be accepted by theists who have adequate grounds for believing in God (p. 56).
Indeed, atheism itself has a number of propositions that have to be accepted by faith, e.g. that something (the universe) came from nothing, non-living matter evolved into living cells by stochastic chemistry, complex specified information arose without intelligence, morality arose by natural selection, etc.
Flew was particularly impressed with a physicist’s refutation of the idea that monkeys at typewriters would eventually produce a Shakespearean sonnet. The likelihood of getting one Shakespearean sonnet by chance is one in 10690; to put this number in perspective, there are only 1080 particles in the universe. Flew concludes: ‘If the theorem won’t work for a single sonnet, then of course it’s simply absurd to suggest that the more elaborate feat of the origin of life could have been achieved by chance’ (p. 78).
Flew was also critical of Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ idea, pointing out that ‘natural selection does not positively produce anything. It only eliminates, or tends to eliminate, whatever is not competitive’ (p. 78). He called Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene ‘a major exercise in popular mystification’, and argued that Dawkins made the critical mistake of overlooking the fact that most observable traits in organisms are the result of the coding of many genes (p. 79).
Not only does our universe follow finely tuned physical laws, but laws which seem to be finely tuned to enable life to exist. The most common atheist answer is to assert that our universe is one of many others—the ‘multiverse’ speculation. It is interesting that atheists who refuse to believe in an unseen God, based supposedly on the lack of evidence for His existence, explain away the appearance of design by embracing the existence of an unknown number of other universes for which there is no evidence—or even any effect of their evidence. In any case, Flew argues that even if there were multiple universes, it would not solve the atheists’ dilemma; ‘multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind’ (p. 121).
As an atheist, Flew struggled with the idea of an invisible, omnipresent Person, and how such a person could be identified (p. 148). However, Flew was making embodiment part of his definition of a person, which isn’t justified. Philosopher Thomas Tracy defined persons simply as agents that are capable of acting intentionally (pp. 149–150). Although human persons are embodied, embodiment is not a necessary component for personhood. Flew admits that ‘At the very least, the studies of Tracy and Leftow show that the idea of an omnipotent Spirit is not intrinsically incoherent if we see such a Spirit as outside space and time that uniquely executes its intentions in the spatio-temporal continuum’ (pp. 153–154).
Flew identifies his god as the god of Aristotle, with the attributes of ‘immutability, immateriality, omnipotence, omniscience, oneness or indivisibility, perfect goodness and necessary existence’ (p. 92). He is adamant that his conversion to theism does not represent a paradigm shift, because his paradigm remains simply to follow the argument where it leads (p. 89).
Some of the attributes of the god that Flew acknowledges are also attributes of God, but Flew does not acknowledge the Trinity or Christ as the second Person of the Trinity, both of which are essential Christian doctrines. So although Flew’s deistic beliefs echo Christian belief in some areas, the god he accepts is not the same as the God of the Bible, although he professes to remain open to the evidence.
Flew never claims to be Christian; he is a self-identified deist who does not believe in an afterlife (p. 2). Nonetheless, he is charitable in his comments about the Christians he came in contact with, writing that his father, a Methodist minister, shared his ‘eagerness of mind’ even though their intellectual pursuits led them in different directions (p. 12). Flew concludes that he is ‘entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality, especially in the light of what we know about the history of nature’ and that ‘the question of whether the Divine has revealed itself in human history remains a valid topic of discussion. You cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence except to produce the logically impossible’ (p. 157).
The second appendix contains a dialogue between Flew and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright on the subject of ‘The self-revelation of God in human history’. Flew begins with some very charitable remarks about Christianity, saying that ‘I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honoured 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’ (pp. 185–186). However, he questions the reliability of the New Testament on the subject of the Resurrection, because the New Testament was written decades after the events they purport to describe, and the earliest of these, the Pauline letters, have little physical detail. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that ‘the claim concerning the resurrection is more impressive than by any by the religious competition’ (187).
‘I must stress that my discovery of the Divine has proceeded on a purely natural level, without any reference to supernatural phenomena. It has been an exercise in what has traditionally been called natural theology. It has had no connection with any of the revealed religions. Nor do I claim to have had any personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or miraculous. In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith’ (p. 93). Update: Antony Flew died on 8 April 2010, at the age of 87, according to the obituary in the Telegraph (UK, 13 April 2010). http://creation.com/review-there-is-a-god-by-antony-flew