Monday, November 26, 2007

There is a God

I have finished reading "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" by Antony Flew. Flew's 'conversion' from atheism was made public on December 9th, 2004, but only in this volume do we get a detailed account of the long process and the specific evidence that led him to make such a drastic change in worldview.

The theme of the book is simple enough to discern. We must pursue the truth no matter where it leads us and such a pursuit leads us to admit the existence of a divine Mind. The book begins with a preface by Roy Abraham Varghese and his critique of the 'new atheism.' Next, we encounter and introduction from Flew where he dismisses 'other explanations' for his conversion from atheism (old age, special revelation, alliance with a church, etc).

The bulk of the book is a mini-biography of Flew and his atheism. He was, in fact, the son of a preacher (a Wesleyan-Methodist preacher, no less). He confesses, though, that he never felt any desire to commune with God, but credits his father with instilling, in him, a passionate pursuit of truth. Despite his early upbringing, Flew became a committed atheist by the age of 15, no longer able to reconcile the presence of pain with the existence of God (nor Calvinistic double-predestination). Flew now believes his conversion to atheism was done far too quickly and easily.

As a young scholar, Flew was a regular participant in the Socratic Club, presided over by C.S. Lewis from 1942 to 1954. Though un-convinced by his reasoning, Lewis was persuasive in convincing Flew to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Early on, Flew felt the evidence cemented his atheism. He spent much of his adult life writing for the presumption of atheism and against arguments for theism. Along the way, Flew debated some of the greatest thinkers of theism (including Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig & Gary Habermas). It was through these debates that Flew became aware of John Wesley's 'Arminian' alternatives to Calvinism. Already considering Wesley one of his country's great sons, this alternative proved significant in clearing the way back to belief in a divine Mind.

Flew then gives his four main reasons for accepting the existence of God: The existence of 'laws' in nature, a universed 'finely tuned' for life, the emergence of life at all, especially in regards to the complex nature of life as we now know it, and, finally, the 'beginning' of the universe in general. In light of these considerations, then, Flew comments that, "I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipresent, and omniscient Being" and adds that he is "entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality."

After further critique of the 'new atheism' by Varghese, Flew allows N.T. Wright to present a case of the historicity of Jesus and His resurrection. Why? In Flews' own words, "In point of fact, I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul." Flew believes Bishop Wright's argument for Jesus' resurrection is "absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful."

Wright first dismisses the ridiculous claim that Jesus never existed as completely unorthodox among Christian and secular historians alike. He then argues that Jesus was God incarnate by pointing out Jesus' behavior as the Word, wisdom, glory, law & Spirit of God. Finally, the Bishop argues that the resurrection of Christ is the best historical explanation for the empty tomb, appearances, and the radical nature of the early Christian beliefs.

All in all, a very worthwhile read. At times, the philosophical and scientific discussions were over my head, but, at the same time, Flew comes across as a very real person who honestly pursued atheism and honestly abandoned it in these past few years. Though he now considers himself a 'deist,' it is clear that he is considering Christianity. I pray his pursuit of truth continues to lead him closer to the Truth, namely, Jesus Christ.


Dena said...

Thanks for the recommendation, sounds interesting. I'll have to pick it up when we're in the States this Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I just bought this book tonight. Thanks for the informative review!!