In 2004, atheistic philosopher Antony Flew announced, to the chagrin of many in the philosophical world, that he was no longer an atheist. Flew, a British philosopher, is considered one of the most influential atheists of the second half of the twentieth century. As one would imagine, his announcement drew considerable fire from the atheistic community. Roy Varghese writes, “The response to the AP story from Flew’s fellow atheists verge on hysteria…Inane insults and juvenile caricatures were common in the freethinking blogosphere. The same people who complained about the Inquisition and witches being burned at the stake were now enjoying a little heresy hunting of their own. The advocates of tolerance were not themselves very tolerant. And, apparently, religious zealots don’t have a monopoly on dogmatism, incivility, fanaticism, and paranoia.” Antony’s response to his colleagues is that he simply had to go where the evidence led.
What evidence caused this famous philosopher to change his mind? His journey from atheism to theism is recounted in his recent book “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” In the first half of his book, Flew gives some interesting biographical background. His father, a graduate of Oxford University, was a Methodist minister and a professor of New Testament. Flew’s conversion to atheism centered on the problem of evil, a problem he witnessed firsthand when his family traveled to Nazi Germany. However, recounting his early move to atheism, Flew suggested that it happened “much too quickly, much too easily, and for what later seemed to me the wrong reasons” (12-13).
After his announcement that he was now a theist, the scientific community suggested that he had not read enough in the latest scientific journals. However, Flew argues that they’ve missed the whole point: “To think at this level is to think as a philosopher. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, I must say that this is properly the job of the philosopher, not of the scientists as scientists”(90). Flew then writes, “A scientist who speaks as a philosopher will have to furnish a philosophical case. As Albert Einstein himself said, ‘The man of science is a poor philosopher” (91).
In the remainder of the book, Flew lays out the evidence that ultimately convinced him to change his mind. Flew was persuaded most of all by David Conway’s arguments for the existence of an Aristotelian God. He also suggests that Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga’s arguments for the connection between the laws of nature and the “Mind of God” were very persuasive. Other pieces of evidence included the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the problem of a solely materialistic explanation for the emergence of life, the problem of reproduction at the very beginning, and the existence of DNA code. Flew concluded that “The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such ‘end-directed, self replicating’ life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind” (132).
At age 85, Antony Flew has shown amazing courage in his willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even at the high cost of losing friends and reversing much of his life’s work. Even though Flew has yet to affirm belief in the God of the Bible, he has indicated openness in considering biblical revelation. Flew writes, “I am entirely open to learning more about the divine Reality,” which to Flew includes, “whether the Divine has revealed itself in human history” (156-7). “Someday,” Flew concludes, “I might hear a Voice that says, ‘Can you hear me now?’” (158).
Dr. Billy Elkins is the pastor of Trinity Church of Chickasha, OK. He is a graduate of Chickasha High School, has a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, FT. Worth, TX, and a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Philosophy from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He and his wife Crystal have three sons and two daughters-in-law. Billy enjoys time with his family, gardening, and reading alongside his dog, Luther.