Wednesday, 12 March 2008

one Flew out of the cuckoo's nest?

Whatever famous people do is news. And if a famous person makes a spectacular change of direction, others take notice. So when longtime atheist and philosopher, Antony Flew, said a few years ago that he was re-considering whether there is a God, people reacted.

Flew, the son of a British clergyman, had studied at Oxford and participated in the Socratic Society, a philosophical discussion group founded by famous christian, CS Lewis. Flew embraced atheism, and had a long and distinguished career as a philosopher in several British universities, and as an author. While never as strongly anti-religion as some well known atheists today, Flew had represented atheism in debates and discussions, and was possibly the premier philosophical atheist of the English speaking world.

So when Flew spoke of his doubts about atheism, Christian friends who had been discussing these matters with him for years continued the discussion. Atheist, Richard Carrier, wrote him several letters urging him to hold the atheist line. Prominent christians and atheists (perhaps foolishly) made claims and counter claims about Flew's "real" views, and Flew himself gave somewhat enigmatic replies.

Nevertheless, for a while, it seemed that Flew had heeded Carrier's pleas, and ceased to question his disbelief, but late last year, Flew dropped a bombshell. His latest book was released (he is co-author) and it is titled "There is a God".

Christians welcomed it and atheists were shocked. Amazingly (perhaps) most of the discussion since then has not been on the merits of the case Flew presents for his change of mind, but whether he was of sound mind. Based mostly on an interview Flew gave to a New York Times reporter, atheists argued that their former spokesperson was confused, misled by christians, failing in memory and possibly senile. Accusations that the book was not Flew's writing, but someone else's released under Flew's name, were made, only to be rebutted by Flew - most of the thoughts were his, he said, and most of the words were his co-author's.

It does seem that Flew's memory and strength are failing - he admits it himself (he is now in his 80s) - but it also seems certain that he has changed his views. He has always said that he was not a dogmatic atheist, he would follow wherever the evidence led him, and that he regularly reviewed his beliefs. Many say this, but it seems he actually believes it! Whatever the merits or otherwise of his reasons, it seems arrogant and insensitive of atheists to attack his integrity rather than address his arguments.

So what are the arguments that convinced him? I haven't read the book yet, but reviews indicate the main reasons were the fact that nature (our universe) exists, that nature obeys such rational and well-ordered laws, and that human beings are so rational and purpose driven. He concludes that “the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence”.

Currently he is unwilling to believe in any established religion (he describes himself as a deist - someone who believes in a God who is not active in the world), but he says that christianity is the best candidate and is currently reviewing the evidence for it. He has included in an appendix a discussion of the resurrection of Jesus (a subject he has many times debated with christians), written by New Testament scholar NT Wright.

Cuckoos are birds which lay their eggs in other birds' nests, so they don't actually have nests of their own. Has Antony Flew finally found his true home?

Read about the book There is a God, a review of the book by a christian, the interview in the New York Times, comments by Richard Carrier and comments by another christian..

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