A Word from Woody. . .

The Curious Story of Antony Flew

OnWoodye of the most notorious atheists in the last century— Antony Flew— made an abrupt turn. In 2004 he accepted God’s existence, and became open to the idea of God revealing Himself and thus becoming a theist.

I recall reading over 20 years ago a debate between Flew and theologian Gary Habermas on the resurrection (Did Jesus Rise from the Dead: The Resurrection Debate [1987]). In that debate Flew followed closely the thinking of the 1700s Enlightenment philosopher David Hume in rejecting the possibility of miracles. I just recently stumbled upon Flew’s last book explaining his “conversion” — There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007). So what is his story?

Born in 1923, Flew grew up in England as a nominal believer in a Christian family. In fact, his father was a Methodist minister and theologian. He claims, “my father was one of the leading Methodist writers and preachers in England” (p. 5). Flew attended a Christian school in his teenage years. Nevertheless, by the time he was 15 he identified himself— unknown to his father until years later— as an atheist. One of the largest reasons for his rejecting God’s existence was the problem of evil. He recalls as a boy visiting pre-WWII Germany. “I vividly recall the banners and signs outside small towns proclaiming, ‘Jews not wanted here’. I recall signs outside the entrance to a public library proclaiming, ‘The regulations of this institution forbid the issuing of any books to Jewish borrowers’” (pp. 13-14). He attended Oxford University, where he was a frequent attender of the weekly Socratic Club, chaired by C.S. Lewis, whom he regards as “the greatest Christian apologist of the last century” (p. 4). After Oxford he taught philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, the University of Keele, the University of Calgary, and the University of Reading. During his career he wrote many influential works supporting atheism, including his published paper “Theology and Falsification”, God and Philosophy, and The Presumption of Atheism, and was involved in several debates on issues touching on Christianity. But as he continued his life’s pursuit of Socrates’ admonition “We must follow the argument wherever it leads” he found himself drawn to accepting God’s existence. Influential to his change were physicists Albert Einstein and Paul Davies, philosopher Richard Swinburne, and anthropic theorist John Leslie, among others. Basically philosophical arguments as well as three aspects of nature convinced him that God exists: “The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature” (pp. 88-89). He discusses with approval Leslie’s book Infinite Minds where Leslie argues that the fine tuning of the universe is best explained by a divine designer. Flew refers to Leslie’s statement, “If, then, there were aspects of nature’s workings that appeared very fortunate and also entirely fundamental then these might as well be seen as evidence specially favoring belief in God” (p. 115).

Flew ends his book with an appendix where he asks biblical scholar N.T. Wright to give evidence for the resurrection. While not stating his being persuaded, Flew finds Wright’s arguments “absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful” (p. 213).

Flew’s coming back to belief in God (and Jesus?) before his death in 2010 is evidence that not all of our unbelieving friends will necessarily stay that way. The intellectual power of Christianity remains. So this Lent may our lives and words present the saving love of Jesus to a world in need.

Yours in Christ,