Most people I talk to have never even heard of Antony Flew. His notoriety seems to lie within circles of convinced atheists and religious (particularly Christian) apologists. So who is he? Flew has for the last half century or so, been the preeminent philosophical voice of atheism in the western world. A former Oxford professor, Flew spent years promoting and defending his philosophical arguments against the existence of God, starting with his wildly popular (amongst people who spend time thinking about such things, anyway) essay “Theology and Falsification.” In the last five or so years, however, Flew has announced what he tongue-in-cheek refers to as his “conversion,” that is, his coming to the belief that there is an intelligent mind behind creation, a deity, if you will. There Is A God is Flew’s own story (maybe — we’ll come to that later) of his pilgramage from atheism to deism.
The text is laid out logically. The first few chapters deal with Flew’s journey from being a religiously apathetic son of a Methodist minister to a full blown defender of atheism. From the troubling problem of evil to the emerging science surrounding evolutionary theories, Flew lays out the bases for his atheistic arguments. The remainder of the book sets out Flew’s intellectual travels, following the evidence where it leads (quoting Plato) toward deism. He cites the basis of his current beliefs regarding God as being the scientific evidence,”more or less.” With chapter titles asking such questions as “Who Wrote the Laws of Nature,” “Did the Universe Know We Were Coming,” and “How Did Life Go Live,” Flew expounds his conclusions regarding each of these issues, finally concluding that the evidence leads to an intelligent mind behind creation.
The most fascinating thing about this book is not the book, at all. It’s the firestorm of controversy that erupted after its release. Atheists immediately cried foul, explaining the apostasy of their once great defender by claiming that he was senile or that his co-writers (Roy Abraham Varghese, the only credited co-writer, in particular) took advantage of an old man’s failing mind in order to impute their ideas to the once great philosopher. Theists, and Christians in particular, seized upon the moment, claiming victory because the world’s greatest atheist mind had seen the truth that God does exist (though I never understood Christians’ elation. Flew, at most, claims belief in a non-personal, Aristotelian god, a far cry from the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam). The internet is rife with claims that Flew was duped by theistic manipulators or that the book is an accurate account of the reflections of a lucid mind. I won’t even begin to list the releases issued by both sides concerning the supposed statements issued by Flew endorsing the book’s content or the accounts of friends who claim that Flew is incoherent. Let’s face it, in this era of immediate, widespread, anonymous, and unverifiable information dessimination brought on by the popularity of the internet, there is little chance that any of us who lack an intimate personal relationship with Flew, himself, will ever really know the truth. Even the available videos I’ve been able to review online in which Flew is either commenting or being interviewed about his theistic beliefs leave me indecisive regarding the sincerity of the beliefs. Some videos show a lucid, candid Flew stating that the scientific evidence leads him to conclude that an intelligent mind is behind the universe. Others show Flew coming to the same conclusions, but only after stumbling over his words and being prompted by the interviewer.
So, will the real Antony Flew please stand up? The truth is, we don’t really need him to. When I first read the cover, I fell into the same trap into which many Christians fell when the book was released. For some reason, it was important to me that this apology for the belief in a god was written by a respected atheist. The man was as important, if not more important, than the message. This is a twist on the classic ad hominem fallacy — somehow I saw the message as more credible because it was written by a man who had spent a lifetime arguing against that same message. On the other side, the atheist outcry centered around Flew’s supposedly failing mind. Suprisingly absent from most critiques, theistic and atheistic alike, was an examination of the arguments themselves. Personally, I found many of the book’s arguments compelling. Of course, it could be because I’ve made some of the same arguments myself.
At the end of the day, however, whether this book convinces anyone depends largely on whether the reader “sees” (see Ronald Nash, Faith And Reason) the argument, that is, whether he is disposed both to understand the argument and accept the conclusion if he finds it convincing. It is likely that the convinced atheist and convinced theist will not change her mind after reading this book. As for the unconvinced, who can say? I, a convinced Christian, found it to be a well-argued intellectual (auto?)biography. I suspect that most of my atheist friends in the blogosphere would vehemently disagree. I would be curious to hear from those I call the “unconvinced,” that is, those who simply are on the fence about God, who have read this book. Setting aside the question of whether Flew actually wrote the book, do you find the arguments convincing or, at least, thought-provoking?
In the end, however, I found reading There Is A God to be a lot like eating Chinese food: it was substantial and tasty, but left me surprisingly hungry after some digestion. As much as I just argued that the message is much more important than the man, I still want to know if Flew is responsible for this volume. I know it shouldn’t be that important to me…but it is. I don’t know. Maybe this dissatisfaction is a good thing. I still eat Chinese food, after all.