There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His
reviewed by Louis Markos
The announcement sent shock waves through the academy: Famed British philosopher and atheist Antony Flew now believes in the existence of God. A brief look at Flew’s resume will make clear why the announcement was so shocking.
Since 1950, Flew has been one of the leading proponents of and apologists for philosophical atheism. In that year, Flew published a paper, “Theology and Falsification,” in which he asked, “Do the numerous qualifications surrounding theological utterances result in their dying the death by a thousand qualifications?” For example, when a Christian claims that God loves us, he must make almost endless qualifications to accommodate all the evidence to the contrary. And so it went, he argued, for all major theological claims.
In God and Philosophy, published in 1966, he propounded a “systematic argument for atheism,” casting into doubt our ability to identify “God” in any real or positive way, and arguing “that it was impossible validly to infer from a particular religious experience that it had as its object a transcendent divine being.”
The third major work in his atheistic trilogy came in 1976 with The Presumption of Atheism, in which he developed further his claim that the concept of God could not even be adequately explained, much less defended. Without “good grounds” and “sufficient reason” for belief in God, atheism was the only “reasonable position.”
By then, however, Flew was becoming increasingly open to the work of theistic philosophers—Alvin Plantinga, William P. Alston, George Mavrodes, and Ralph McInerny, among others. He came slowly to soften his position on the presumption of atheism and to respect theistic arguments that asserted God’s existence as being as logical, primary, and necessary as our belief in the existence of the world or of our own minds.
However, what really spurred on Flew’s movement toward theism—and makes his “defection” from atheism a doubly bitter pill for the modern czars of atheism to swallow—was his intense study of modern advances in science. None of the arguments he makes in There Is a God rest upon divine revelation, and only a few on his “renewed study of the classical philosophical arguments” (understood as those of Aristotle, rather than those of Augustine or Aquinas).
No, insists Flew, his pilgrimage has been one “of reason and not of faith”: “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence . . . [and] that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. . . . [T]his is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”
In particular, his belief in God rests on three dimensions of our physical world that could not have come about apart from a controlling Intelligence or divine Mind: that nature obeys laws, that we are purpose-driven beings, and that nature exists at all.
We live in a complex universe that runs in accordance with unified and stable laws, laws that modern scientists have not invented but discovered. These laws, writes Flew, “pose a problem for atheists because they are a voice of rationality heard through the mechanisms of matter.”
Likewise, the fact that we are conscious and purposeful beings militates against our having evolved solely out of unconscious, non-purposeful matter. The scientific evidence, he argues, though it may not point to the God of the Bible, does point at least to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent First Cause of Aristotle.
The Philosopher’s Job
Some critics have claimed that his co-author, Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese, is the real author of the book. An unbiased reading of the book reveals, I think, a single and consistent voice and controlling intelligence, one that can be easily distinguished from the parts of the book written by Varghese.
Flew is aware that he will be accused of meddling in scientific affairs for which he lacks training. He turns the charge back on his critics, berating modern scientists for thinking that their scientific expertise legitimizes them to comment authoritatively and exclusively on the philosophical meaning of the physical data they have observed. To the contrary, it is the philosopher’s job to determine what the physical data reveals about the fundamental questions of life.
And besides, as he demonstrates through a series of quotes from scientists like Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Hawking, when the greatest scientists have considered the evidence, it has led them inevitably to perceive—not as men of faith but as men of science—“a connection between the laws of nature and the Mind of God.” Darwin himself attested to the “extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capability of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.”
Flew has never received any communication from God, he writes at the end of this memoir. He does, however, grant the possibility of such a communication in the future, a possibility that enables him to conclude There Is a God with this final, haunting sentence: “Someday I might hear a Voice that says, ‘Can you hear me now?’”
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