Skip to comments.How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
Posted on 05/19/2013 4:54:01 AM PDT by NYer
EDITOR'S NOTE: For the last half of the twentieth century, Antony Flew (1923-2010) was the world's most famous atheist. Long before Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris began taking swipes at religion, Flew was the preeminent spokesman for unbelief.
However in 2004, he shocked the world by announcing he had come to believe in God. While never embracing Christianity—Flew only believed in the deistic, Aristotelian conception of God—he became one of the most high-profile and surprising atheist converts. In 2007, he recounted his conversion in a book titled There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Some critics suggested Flew's mental capacity had declined and therefore we should question the credibility of his conversion. Others hailed Flew's book as a legitimate and landmark publication.
A couple months before the book's release, Flew sat down with Strange Notions contributor Dr. Benjamin Wiker for an interview about his book, his conversion, and the reasons that led him to God. Read below and enjoy!
Antony Flew: There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself—which is far more complex than the physical Universe—can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins' comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a "lucky chance." If that's the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.
Wiker: You are famous for arguing for a presumption of atheism, i.e., as far as arguments for and against the existence of God, the burden of proof lies with the theist. Given that you believe that you only followed the evidence where it led, and it led to theism, it would seem that things have now gone the other way, so that the burden of proof lies with the atheist. He must prove that God doesn't exist. What are your thoughts on that?
Flew: I note in my book that some philosophers indeed have argued in the past that the burden of proof is on the atheist. I think the origins of the laws of nature and of life and the Universe point clearly to an intelligent Source. The burden of proof is on those who argue to the contrary.
Wiker: As for evidence, you cite a lot of the most recent science, yet you remark that your discovery of the Divine did not come through "experiments and equations," but rather, "through an understanding of the structures they unveil and map." Could you explain? Does that mean that the evidence that led you to God is not really, at heart, scientific?
Flew: It was empirical evidence, the evidence uncovered by the sciences. But it was a philosophical inference drawn from the evidence. Scientists as scientists cannot make these kinds of philosophical inferences. They have to speak as philosophers when they study the philosophical implications of empirical evidence.
Wiker: You are obviously aware of the spate of recent books by such atheists as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. They think that those who believe in God are behind the times. But you seem to be politely asserting that they are ones who are behind the times, insofar as the latest scientific evidence tends strongly toward—or perhaps even demonstrates—a theistic conclusion. Is that a fair assessment of your position?
Flew: Yes, indeed. I would add that Dawkins is selective to the point of dishonesty when he cites the views of scientists on the philosophical implications of the scientific data.
Two noted philosophers, one an agnostic (Anthony Kenny) and the other an atheist (Thomas Nagel), recently pointed out that Dawkins has failed to address three major issues that ground the rational case for God. As it happens, these are the very same issues that had driven me to accept the existence of a God: the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the Universe.
Wiker: You point out that the existence of God and the existence of evil are actually two different issues, which would therefore require two distinct investigations. But in the popular literature—even in much of the philosophical literature—the two issues are regularly conflated. Especially among atheists, the presumption is that the non-existence of God simply follows upon the existence of evil. What is the danger of such conflation? How as a theist do you now respond?
Flew: I should clarify that I am a deist. I do not accept any claim of divine revelation though I would be happy to study any such claim (and continue to do so in the case of Christianity). For the deist, the existence of evil does not pose a problem because the deist God does not intervene in the affairs of the world. The religious theist, of course, can turn to the free-will defense (in fact I am the one who first coined the phrase free-will defense). Another relatively recent change in my philosophical views is my affirmation of the freedom of the will.
Wiker: According to There is a God, you are not what might be called a "thin theist," that is, the evidence led you not merely to accept that there is a "cause" of nature, but "to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being." How far away are you, then, from accepting this Being as a person rather than a set of characteristics, however accurate they may be? (I'm thinking of C. S. Lewis' remark that a big turning point for him, in accepting Christianity, was in realizing that God was not a "place"—a set of characteristics, like a landscape—but a person.)
Flew: I accept the God of Aristotle who shares all the attributes you cite. Like Lewis I believe that God is a person but not the sort of person with whom you can have a talk. It is the ultimate being, the Creator of the Universe.
Wiker: Do you plan to write a follow-up book to There is a God?
Flew: As I said in opening the book, this is my last will and testament.
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Thomas Aquinas arrived at the same conclusion 800 years ago. If we use our senses and look around the only reasonable conclusion is that God exists.
A famous theologian (forget which one) suggested that we simply ask the unbeliever to prove there is no hell. We sees glimpses every day. We all know death and disease and mutations should not be, which is why so many work to eradicate the effects. If it was natural, why bother? Especially for the evolutionist.
He traded one form of unbelief for another. The lost suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It takes the Holy Spirit to open ones eyes to the triune God.
A case for God: In the complexity of the universe, what if one piece of the puzzle was missing. What if there was no gravity, what if there was no weak force, what if there was no DNA, what if there was no hydrogen, what if there were no protons, what if there was no fusion to power the stars, what if there were no synapses, what if time didn’t exist? Everything is necessary and in balance. Liberals exist to give a face to subversive evil. (Had to stick that in, just in case someone was wondering)
Things (i.e., science) have always been that way; the atheists simply have ignored the scientific principle that you can't prove a negative. When an atheist says, "God doesn't exist" you simply have to say, "Prove it." When the atheist invariably resorts to crowning himself the intellectual superior in the debate:
Some critics suggested Flew's mental capacity had declined...
play the game in his realm by pointing out that his philosophy (science) requires that a) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and b) You can't prove a negative.
Keli Kilohana, I am amazed that there are some believers who cannot rejoice when an unbeliever takes a step closer to the truth.
By the way, the James passage you quote was in regard to so-called Christians who claimed to be Christian because they believed in God, yet demonstrated no evidence (works) in their lives to indicate that they truly repented or had the Holy Spirit living within their hearts.
I pray the Mr. Flew, who said he is studying the claims of Christianity, will take that final step of trusting in Christ as his Savior.
Remember when Jesus said to one who was seeking answers from
Him - “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. Rejoice in Mr. Flew’s step toward the Truth and pray that he will continue to the completed truth in Jesus as the Truth.
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re: “He traded one form of unbelief for another. The lost suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It takes the Holy Spirit to open ones eyes to the triune God.”
I say the same thing to you as I said to Keli. So, Mr. Flew’s step closer to the Truth that there is a God who created the Universe is trading one form of unbelief for another??
Some “Christians” are so sour and dour that they cannot rejoice when a lost sheep begins to turn toward Real Truth?
Yes, Mr. Flew is not there yet, but he at least is doing what Paul mentions in Romans 1 - he is seeing the “clear evidence of God’s existence in God’s creation”.
Lord Above, crghill, have a little grace and mercy. Pray for Mr. Flew to continue to seek the Lord - he even admits that he is studying the claims of Christianity - at least he is looking in the right direction.
Your Calvinism is showing as well. No freewill.
I think the origins of the laws of nature and of life and the Universe point clearly to an intelligent Source. The burden of proof is on those who argue to the contrary. —Antony FlewIt's interesting to me that an intelligent and accomplished man would take a lifetime to come to such a simple, and (according to scripture) self-evident conclusion.
Also, in that he doesn’t mention it here, the writings of Roy Abraham Varghese and Gerald Schroeder, were also primarily convincing to him.
“I pray the Mr. Flew, who said he is studying the claims of Christianity, will take that final step of trusting in Christ as his Savior.”
Flew died several years ago. He made no public confession of belief in Christ, but God is merciful. I hope God took into account that Flew was genuinely interested in the truth and (it seems) wanted to know it with all his heart.
re: “Flew died several years ago. He made no public confession of belief in Christ, but God is merciful. I hope God took into account that Flew was genuinely interested in the truth and (it seems) wanted to know it with all his heart.”
I didn’t know that and sorry to hear of his passing. He did mention in the interview that he had been examining the Christian faith. One can only hope that he took the final steps to Jesus before he died.
Why is it, that proof of ones belief is even considered to be necessary?
Yep, this has been my path as well. In trying to understand the physical world and the rules by which it operates, I was lead to the Designer who built it and wrote the operating system.
The last book I read, "Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" and current book I'm reading, "Heaven is Real, But So is Hell" have given me the answers I've been looking for to prove the truth of their titles.
And, both have more than lived up to their titles. After all I've learned through study and experience, I am 100% convinced of the reality of Heaven, Hell and the wonders and the consequences laid out in the Bible.
It's absolutely real. And we are almost out of time.
Flew is lucky to have found the truth before it was too late. I found way more than I wanted to know about what happens to atheists, and everyone else who turns away, by reading "My Descent into Death: A Second Chance at Life'.
Parts of his experience still shake me when I think about it. I think at some level I know his experience was real and awaits me, too. It waits for all of us who take that path.
God exists and loves you no matter if there are 100 billions believing that or no one. However, when someone with insight and dedication starts with atheistic beliefs and for intellectual reasons alone understands his error, then it is remarkable and might be informative to others, who struggle with the same error.
Mr Flew died in 2010. I’m comforted to know that not one of God’s elect will be lost. It is my hope he is among them.
Lastly, freewill assumes one can choose perfect good. My bible says that mankind was born into sin and is a slave to it until set free by Christ. I’ll keep my soteriology.
Indeed. That is Catholic teaching on free will: we have it solely because Christ gives it to us.