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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Antony Flew's "There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" A Review

Photo by John Lawrence. 

Antony Flew's "There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" is a quiet and brief book that has generated a hornet's nest of controversy.

Antony Flew is an English philosopher and the son of a Methodist minister. He was born in 1923; this book was published in 2007. Flew's advanced age has become the focus of those attacking the book. Flew was educated at Cambridge and attended the meetings of Christian author CS Lewis' Socratic Club. With the publication of the 1966 book "God and Philosophy," Flew became a prominent atheist philosopher.

In a 2004 interview with Gary Habermas, Flew said he had come to believe in God. "There Is a God" expands on Flew's conversion. Flew believes in the God of Aristotle. This God is typified by "immutability, immateriality, omnipotence, omniscience, oneness or indivisibility, perfect goodness and necessary existence" (92).

"There Is a God" begins with a reserved account of Flew's life. For this reader the most intriguing portion was Flew's report that, though he had since abandoned his father's Christianity, he judged pre-marital sex as morally wrong (26). Like many readers, I find the personal and concrete more captivating than discussion of competing philosophical schools. Like a Jane Austen novel, though, Flew's book scurries past intimate detail.

Subsequent chapters summarize the evidence that prompted Flew to come to believe in an Aristotelian God: the universe's fine tuning that renders it hospitable to life, and the questions of life's origin, existence, and complexity. Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, George Wald, David Berlinski, etc, are quoted. Flew does make a good point about the unique gifts philosophy brings to bear when discussing scientific questions (89-91).

It is true that this portion is not original; one can easily find similar arguments on the web. One can easily find these arguments because so many world class scientists have made them. World class scientists and thinkers endorse Flew's take on scientific questions; their endorsements can be found on the back cover and inside front cover of the book. In short, New Atheists' insistence that Flew's take on science is flawed is belied by the many scientists whose views parallel his.

"There Is a God" closes with two appendices; one written by science and religion writer Roy Abraham Varghese, and the other by Bishop N. T. Wright. Varghese addresses perceived flaws in the arguments of New Atheist authors including Richard Dawkins. N. T. Wright offers a brief for the divinity of Jesus.

In November, 2007, The New York Times published Mark Oppenheimer's, "The Turning of an Atheist," an article that, without evidence but rich with catty innuendo, insinuated that Flew was feeble with Alzheimer's disease, that nothing that Flew said could be believed, and that a cabal of conspiratorial Christians, exercising a Svengali-like power and sociopathic lack of conscience, knowingly manipulated and exploited Flew

For a moment, let us leave aside, as Oppenheimer does, all questions of decency and good taste. Question: Does Antony Flew suffer from Alzheimer's, and is disease the cause of Flew's belief in God? New Atheists will insist on this; to them, faith is evidence of low IQ and/or mental illness.

Answer: no one knows. Even if it were proved that Flew has Alzheimer's, it could not be proved that Alzheimer's caused him to believe in God. Further, people who work with the elderly know that we humans do lose predictable cognitive skills as we age. We also, often, gain much: wisdom, patience, perspective. To a casual observer, an elderly person can appear demented. Often, though, what appears to be dementia is not. Rather, the elderly person still has the ability to think deep thoughts, but lacks some abilities that younger people can display readily. This is not just true of the elderly. Often deaf people are wrongly assumed to be stupid, people with Parkinson's are wrongly assumed to be drunk, etc.

Antony Flew was a champion of atheism for many decades. Many atheists are, now that he is old, dragging his name through the dirt. The revolution eats its young. This betrayal is reprehensible. It is also unnecessary. If their arguments against God are as ironclad as New Atheists insist, they need not calumniate an elderly man who was once their champion. Once again we see that, in its shrillness and ethical bankruptcy, the New Atheism is not just anti-God, it is anti-human.

This review was posted on Amazon in 2008. Antony Flew passed away in 2010. 

2 comments:

  1. I made the mistake of listening to Richard Dawkin's Book the God Delusion on CD. He and his fellow reader who I believe was his wife, sounded bitter, hateful and condescending; not very enlightening at all. Last night, I watched a God debate on TBN and it featured 7 people, the moderator who was charming, 2 scientists, one “God created the earth in 7 literal day’s apologist,” two charactertures of southern preachers, and one Zealous John the Baptist type preacher. I must say that I was surprised to see such a lengthy debate on TBN regarding evolution and creation but was impressed with the Astrophysicist, Dr. Hugh Ross. Although I am somewhat reluctant when it comes to programs on TBN and Jan Crouch’s horrible imitation of Tammy Faye Baker I intend to learn more about Dr. Ross and his arguments for a Creation model.

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  2. Charles, thanks so much for your comment.

    Alas, i don't have TV so I miss all these televised debates.

    Think the "There is a God" debates are dead in the water, anyway. By our current, most popular definition of God: omniscient, omnipresent, all loving, unknowable by our human abilities -- God defies proof.

    But maybe the debates are fun to watch!

    I don't know what TBN is.

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