Monday, 25 January 2010

there is a god

Almost 2 years ago, I reported on the conclusion by leading philosopher and former atheist, Antony Flew, that there is indeed a God after all (see one Flew out of the cuckoo's nest?). I described how many atheists had accused him of selling out, of not writing his new book himself, and of being senile.

I have now, belatedly, had the opportunity to read the book. I was worried it might be too philosophical for me, or, conversely, that it might indeed be the writings of a man who was past it. But I needn't have worried on either count, because it was an enjoyable, easy and worthwhile read.

This is not a philosophical book - he doesn't present any rigorous arguments. It is rather a personal memoir, a look back on his life and why he became an atheist in the first place despite a christian upbringing, and a summary of the ideas and the people who had influenced him to change his mind at this late stage in his life. I wouldn't think anyone would be convinced by the book alone, but any thoughtful person should find plenty of worthwhile ideas to follow up, and the references to do so.

He certainly doesn't sound senile, but he is getting old (he is now approaching 87), as this video shows. And he certainly does sound quite sure of himself. I found it a very human book, with the weakest parts being those written by his co-author (Preface and Appendix 1).

The main reasons why he changed his mind were "the fact that nature obeys laws", the "intelligently organised and purpose-driven life which arose from matter" and "the very existence of nature" (i.e. the universe). Based on the scientific discoveries in these areas, he has concluded that none of these could have occurred if they had not been "brought into existence by an infinite intelligence". He goes on to say that he is open to the possibility that God has revealed himself in the world, and believes christianity is the most likely candidate. He makes it clear he is now considering christianity, and accordingly gave NT Wright, the famous New Testament scholar, the opportunity to write an appendix answering some of Flew's questions about christianity.

According to Wikipedia (last updated March 2009), there is ongoing controversy over Flew's departure from atheism. Certainly I have found on various internet forums that he is not respected by atheists, who tend to react with comments about senility if his name is even mentioned. But I think the book is worth reading for anyone with an interest in philosophy.


  1. Thanks for the brief review. I have a copy of a debate Flew had with Thomas Warren (when Flew was still an atheist)well before I was born. I need to read this book myself, and it's no surprise atheists dismiss him by calling him senile. My own interactions with atheists has taught me they're not the kindest, most open-minded bunch in the world.

  2. This was one of the first books I read when I began to consider faith. Alot of people that saw me reading it thought it was called "There Is NO God", and didn't notice the strike-thru on "no"! The controversy over Flew does put a bit of a damper on the book... of course I'm not at all convinced with Carrier's conspiracy theory that they took advantage of Flew.

    You are right, this book definitely won't compel people already familiar with many of the arguments, it is all very clear-cut, entry level stuff. I think many atheists won't be very impressed, and consider Varghese's arugments more of "hurdles" than the brick wall he implies. Still though I enjoyed reading about Flew's life.

  3. I think the conspiracy theory, or the related theory that Flew is suffering from dementia, are quite despicable. It is always possible to come up with supposed psychological explanations which dismiss the person rather than answer the arguments. For example, Carrier is writing a book on the historical Jesus - would anyone be respected if they dismissed his theses by saying that, as an atheist, he adapted history to suit his agenda? I don't think so. So with both Flew and Carrier, we should address the arguments on their merits - and Flew's arguments have merits, even if he doesn't outline them with great rigour.

  4. I would not blame the book on Flew's senility, but on the fact that he admitted himself that he had not read the other side of various intelligent design and anthropic principle arguments, and that the two books that Flew says impressed him the most were written by Schroeder and some other fellow whose arguments fail to impress.

    Flew also admitted that he didn't have time to delve into all sides of such arguments and he was no specialist in matters of abiogenesis, physics, astronomy, etc.

    Flew also admitted his memory was not what it was, though he also admitted in an interview with Habermas that even with a First Cause, Flew did not consider himself a Christian, since he still cited the problem of suffering and that he did not believe in written revelation. Flew added that if he should ever convert to Christianity that he did not think it would be at a time when he was still in his right mind. Though he said it in a far nicer way than I am paraphrasing here. You can check out my own take on Flew's conversion by googling
    Babinski Antony Flew

    I discuss such topics as




  5. Flew's reason for not being concerned about the science is that he believes the origin of life is a philosophical question which needs to be answered regardless of the science (p90). So it wasn't (in the book) a matter of time or lack of concern but of fundamental approach. Critics should address that claim and not simply misrepresent it as laziness or old age.

    And in his appendix B he makes it clear that of all the revealed religions, he believes christianity is the "one religion that deserves to be honoured and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true."

    So Ed, I think you misrepresent the book a little. But thanks for your comment.


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