Skip to comments.Atheist's turn toward God was a 4-year process, friend says
Posted on 12/26/2004 2:12:39 PM PST by protest1
Atheist's turn toward God was a 4-year process, friend says Dec 22, 2004 By David Roach
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Christian apologist Gary Habermas had just finished debating noted British atheist Antony Flew about the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The two friends rode an elevator together as they left the Californian university where the debate was held in January 2002. As Habermas exited the elevator, he extended his hand through the open door. "Tony," he said, "this is it for now. I enjoyed talking with you. When you become a Christian, I want to be the first one to know."
Flew laughed and responded, "I think you deserve that right."
The doors closed.
Most observers of the debate never thought that Flew would take steps toward Christianity. The former professor at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading universities in Britain had argued against the existence of God for more than 50 years, publishing such books as "Atheistic Humanism" and "Darwinian Evolution."
But in December 2004 the unexpected happened when Flew took a step toward Christianity, announcing that scientific evidence led him to a belief in God.
Habermas was among the first people he told.
Habermas, chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., had known that Flew was reconsidering his position since the fall of 2000 when Flew sent Habermas a letter in which the atheist acknowledged the strength of arguments for theism and Christianity.
"In September 2000, that's about the earliest indication that I had that he was changing," Habermas said in an interview with Baptist Press. "He wrote me a long letter, quite an incredible letter, where at several points he conceded the evidence for [theism and Christianity]."
When Habermas received the letter, he knew something was happening in Flew's life.
"I distinctly remember reading that letter when it came in the mail and thinking, 'Wow, something huge is happening with this guy,'" Habermas said.
Over a period of three years the two scholars corresponded about God. By January 2003 Flew began considering arguments from the "intelligent design" movement and was on the verge of belief in God.
Intelligent design is a theory arguing that some features of the natural world are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause rather than naturalistic evolution.
"He told me he was really rethinking theism and had corresponded with [naturalistic scientist Richard] Dawkins and was putting the ID arguments up against what Dawkins was saying and trying to compare the arguments," Habermas said. "And he was going back and forth as to whether he should be a theist or not."
By early 2004, Flew completed his transition to theism and indicated his change of mind to Habermas in a telephone conversation.
When media reports revealed Flew's belief in God in December 2004, some skeptics argued that the former atheist had changed his mind suddenly. But Habermas said such allegations are clearly incorrect in light of the four-year dialogue he had with Flew.
"The implications that he's just recently arrived at theism ... and that he hasn't had time to think through this aren't correct," Habermas said. "The first sign that I've seen of him changing goes back to the fall of 2000. So he's been thinking about these things for four years."
Flew currently holds a position known as deism -- the belief that God created the universe but is not actively involved in people's lives today, Habermas said. Because deism is traditionally a "tenuous" position, Flew could move closer to traditional Christianity in the days ahead, he said.
"Deism is a very tenuous position, and deistic belief is a short-lived movement in the history of philosophy over the last few centuries," Habermas said. "One reason deism is a troubled position is that it usually moves one way or the other."
Flew could revert back to atheism, Habermas noted. "Still, he has made a number of statements to me indicating that he is open, even to revelation," Habermas said.
"Three weeks ago I received a letter from him where he said that he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them,'" he said.
Despite his interest in the resurrection, however, Flew remains far from belief in Christianity, Habermas said.
"He's told me on many occasions that he was impressed with the arguments for the resurrection ... and he says it's the best miracle claim in the history of religions," Habermas recounted. "So he's impressed with them. Enough to believe? I don't think so, certainly not right now."
The dialogue with Flew highlights the need for Christians to engage non-believers in meaningful, caring friendships, Habermas said. Christian scholars in particular should bear in mind the need to build relationships with non-believing scholars, he said.
There are "benefits of carrying on a genuine friendship with people who do not agree with you on things," Habermas said. "I mean a genuine friendship where you're there for them in season and out of season. You're there for them when they're having bad days. You can tell them things that are on your mind. ... It's not connected to whether the people convert or not."
Christians should rejoice that Flew has adopted a belief in God but remember that mere belief in God falls short of the belief in Jesus Christ that Scripture requires for eternal life, Habermas said.
"His deism provides no relief for dying because he doesn't believe in life after death," he said. "It's not ... an 81-year-old who is embracing God so that he can come out on the good side when he dies. If you said that to him, he would say, 'I'm just going where the evidence leads.'"
An interview conducted by Habermas exploring Flew's conversion to belief in God will be published in the winter 2004 issue of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Very telling that the best arguments of leading atheist darwinist Richard Dawkins failed to keep Antony Flew an atheist
I remember leaving a friend with those words about 8 years ago now. Still waiting for and expecting that call....
Flew is 81 years old, has been a practising atheist for 50 years, and 4 years ago he gets interested in religion.
Why doesn't anyone think that as Flew gets closer to the grave, and the realization of his mortality, he'll get even more religious?
"I remember leaving a friend with those words about 8 years ago now. Still waiting for and expecting that call...."
Keep that friend in your prayers . . . while there is life, there is hope.
Last week we buried a cousin who renounced God and the Church. While he seemed to have mellowed in recent years, and certainly was aware of his limited mortality due to a bad heart -- he did not come back to church, and had a short service at the funeral home. Maybe he was close to God in some way . . . we can't judge. But it makes me sick inside . . . I feel, if he had submitted himself to God and God's will, wouldn't he have returned to church??
With him, I think it was merely the refusal to submit himself to a higher authority: the Church, even God himself . . . Sounds familiar in the fall of Lucifer . . . guess it can still happen.
I will get a Mass said for him -- a kind of sweet revenge ;). If he still felt the way at death that he did before, he will roll over in his grave at the idea of it, but he can't stop me from doing it!
Because in the articles in which Flew described his turn towards Deism, he announced that he'd come to the conclusion that he believed in an absent, uncaring God, and that he thought the idea of an afterlife was nonsense.
I've always thought that deism makes much more sense than atheism. It seems very hard to deny the main tenets of intelligent design. However, with all of the evil in the world and the fact that it takes faith to believe in miracles that you don't personally witness, it can seem hard to believe in an involved caring God. How to split the difference? Either bcome an agnostic (I don't see how a knowledge-seeker could ever be satisfied with this), or a deist.
Habermas was a contributor to a superb book called "The Case For Christ." It's an investigation into the reality of Jesus from a secular point of view. The atheist author Lee Strobel becomes a believer while doing the research for the book. Fascinating! There's one area of analysis I don't agree with but recommend the book for every Christian's library. p_w...Seeds of Israel
As a former atheist, I can tell you that a deist/agnostic is a cowardly atheist.
Or a searching pre-Christian.
I spent 20 years in hospital nursing, 10 of it in ICU.
I have been the only human witness to many deaths. Many others died with family or friends present.
The most unusual death I ever witnessed was an atheist. He was in ICU on the ventilator suffering from liver failure.
Liver failure is not a good way to go. He was in a coma, bleeding from the eyes, nose, lungs, in his urine...
He hadn't even blinked voluntarily in several days. When his heart flipped into a lethal rhythm, He sat up, opened his eyes and stared.
It is the one and only time I saw anybody sit up to die. It may have only been an oddity but I still can't explain it and haven't talked to any one that could.
You religious people crack me up. You make such a big deal about one atheist seeing the light but it's just the beginning phases of senility.
I believe historically you'll find the older a person gets, the less likely he is to change religious views.
Many people become Christians as children and young people. Much fewer over 65 make the transition from nonbeliever to believer. Why? Because you have to make a radical re-commitment to your entire world-view and admit you've been wrong all along.
As people get older, they are more set in their thinking and less willing to do that despite the fact of their impending mortality. That would admit they have believed a lie or ignored the truth all their lives. Oh, many may think they are going to Heaven, but they live on false hopes and wishes, nothing else. They have no assurances, except things superficial like, "I've always been 'good'" or "God would never be so cruel as to send me to hell", or "we're all God's children"! These shallow views stem from unBiblical teachings and popular culture, and are prevalent even among a lot of liberal churches as well as agnostics.
They are hopes and a form of "faith". Biblically false ones.
"You religious people crack me up. You make such a big deal about one atheist seeing the light but it's just the beginning phases of senility. "
Wait a minute here you yourself claim that you "crack me up" and you have the nerve to point a finger and claim senility of another????
Anthony Flew is not your run of the mill atheist. You on the other hand are a run of the mill secularist. See the difference? Nobody would care if you managed to find the light switch, Flew finding it is news.
Yeah, that made sense.
I fail to see the importance of any one person becoming Christian, or atheist, or Hindu, or whatever. I feel like it's watching homos brand some famous historical figure 'gay.' I mean, if it's a personal choice, or even if it's inborn, how can it possibly make any difference to anyone if Michelangelo smoked the pole?
Just so with Christianity. If it's between you and your God what your religious beliefs are, why the heck would finding out an atheist converted make someone more likely to become Christian? They are YOUR beliefs. It's not like having celebrity endorsers makes you more likely to believe something--but if hearing Shaq or Madonna are Christian makes you love Jesus, you're not all that deeply religious, are you?
Just dumb. Dumb dumb dumb.
My ex-husband has been a lifelong atheist. He was the most immovable sort of atheist: a professor, very worldly and sophisticated, convinced he knew everything, consumed with pride and narcissism. His narcissism eventually led him into crime and depravity, because he was convinced that there was no such thing as God or Satan, right or wrong, just "what he liked" and "what he didn't like." He thought he was above the laws that apply to ordinary, stupid people, and was full of contempt for churches and Christians. My growing faith was one of the things that parted us. We were divorced more than seven years ago.
About two years ago our little son, then eight, decided that he wanted to be baptized, and in his innocence wanted his daddy to see the fine service our church holds. So my ex came to church, rather resentfully, expecting to see the pastor a charlatan and the snakes big and fat. Instead, he admitted that the pastor appeared to be a very literate and very sincere man. Subsequently we began having a security issue--I had a stalker who was coming to church and following me around--and my ex decided that he had to come to church to serve as bodyguard to me and my kids. So for the next several months he had to sit and listen to the pastor every Sunday for an hour and a half.
He subsequently went away to pay for his crimes. When he returned, five months later, he was right back to church. One sees him praying now, taking communion, weeping as the pastor gently preaches a message that hits home, or sometimes going up to to the altar for special prayer. It won't be long now. It's taken 64 years, but the nasty atheist has turned into an understanding and supportive daddy who is doing his best to help his kids and is taking them to church every Sunday. He is humble now, the first to admit that people who have little formal education can be very well-educated indeed. Praise God!--prayer works.
I have seen the worst (and those who thought they were the best) come to the LORD, Cap. Thanks for your story to add to so many. My list of those I am praying for (and waiting on) is long.....but He is faithful.
"He is humble now"
That is a key; and it is not taught now-a-days!
Children do make a difference. I have raised my daughter with the faith, and sent her to a good school. Her father is "too busy." BUT she had him in tears one time (she told me) promising to go to church every Sunday. He knows he has to be a good example for her, and that sends him to church more often than he would otherwise be inclined: "too busy." AND he would not listen to me: it would only harden him. I flatly told him: I am not your mother, it is not my responsibility to nag you to go to church. It is YOUR responsibility . . . So the kids definitely have an edge!
Do hope your ex comes around finally. As you said, pride and narcissism allow a person to rationalize away God -- they make themselves into a god: i.e. arbiter of what they shall and shall not do. They can't accept a God telling them what is right or wrong. Remind him that the 10 Commandements are not rules to stifle us, but "operating instructions" for human nature. If we violate them, we only hurt ourselves and others, because that is the way we are made.
Thanks for sharing your story.