I’ve just finished reading the latest book by British philosopher, Antony Flew. He is now in his eighties, and has come to a conclusion that has startled the world. The title of the book sums up his conclusion quite nicely:
“There is A God”
The subtitle explains the amazement of the world:
“How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.
The preface of the book explains that from the 1950s onwards, Flew basically laid the foundations of modern atheism in a series of ground-breaking papers. For example, he contended that atheism should be the ‘default’ position – we should start NOT believing in God. The burden of proof then lies with the faithful, to prove His existence, rather than the atheist having to prove He doesn’t exist. he suggested that we have not yet described how it is logically possible for a God to exist who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who exists everywhere.
Flew’s philosophy was the foundation upon which modern atheists such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith) built their ideas and arguments against the existence of God. As you might imagine, they are not at all pleased with his turnaround!
So what has changed his mind? In a nutshell, he has come to the conclusion that there are things in this universe that are best explained by the existence of God. His arguments are all based on reason, logic. For example, how does something come from nothing? – there is no other sensible way to explain the existence fot he universe. The incredible fine-tuning of the universe in general and earth in particular that makes our existence possible – this is powerful evidence of Someone who had an intention, and designed the universe to be just so. The mystery of our consciousness; the fact that we know that we exist – how can matter, which is physical, produce consciousness, which is clearly non-physical?
Flew has been accused of giving in to fear in his old age (he is 85). As his inevitable death approaches, they say, he is hedging his bets. He is accepting belief in God just in case it turns out to be true, laying Pascal’s Wager. But this analysis couldn’t be further from the truth. Flew goes to great pains to clarify that although he has accepted the existence of God as truth, he is still sceptical about an afterlife. And indeed, his history and arguments in this book show clearly that his conclusions are the result of a very honest analysis of the issues and are not at all motivated by any emotion whatsoever.
His attitude to Christianity is interesting. He seems to be saying that if any religion is true, it is most likely to be Christianity, and there is an interesting dialogue at the end of the book between Flew and Bishop NT Wright, a Christian theologian, in which Wright presents a powerful defence of the Christian faith. Perhaps Flew’s final reflection in the book sums up his current position best:
I am very much impressed with Bishop Wright’s approach … Is it possible that there has been or can be divine revelation? As I said, you cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence except to produce the logically impossible. Everything else is open to omnipotence.
This book is not for everyone – the arguments in it are often quite complex and some background knowledge of philosophy and its ways and jargon is most helpful. But Flew’s style of writing is a delight; he is one of those old-style English writers who uses the English langauge so elegantly and economically.
Who knows if he will eventually come to a faith in Christ?
He is, after all, only 85…