The late Anthony Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was a philosopher and something of a genius. He was an atheist philosopher for most of his career and a notable one. By notable, I mean he even invented new arguments against God’s existence, writing many books. However, with increasing advances in science and philosophical arguments for God’s existence, Flew changed his mind to become something of a Deist. This book is the story of how this happened.
Flew’s oft-repeated matra is “follow the evidence wherever it leads” and maintains the importance of being open to changing your mind if the evidence blows that way. I appreciated his candor on this.
The book begins somewhat autobiographically with good bits of philosophy thrown in, an aspect I really liked. I had some schooling on philosophy and philosophers reading this book. He has great discussions on free-will and determinism, as well as some overview of his past debates and writings, all telling the story of his intellectual journey.
Then he launches into the reasons why he changed his mind: His first reason is mainly the argument from design. The new findings of science on the complexity of life and the ultimate rationality of the universe seen in the laws of nature were major proofs of a rational Designer for Flew. Another was the so-called fine-tuning argument. This says that the universe and its laws are specifically designed and tuned for human life on earth. He then goes on into the problem of the origin of life and the complexity of the DNA molecule and how impossible it is for life to come about by itself. He proceeds from there to the cosmological argument (that due to the law of cause-and-effect, the universe must have a cause, a starter for the big bang would most reasonably be God), and its further development by philosophers David Conway and Richard Swinburne that he found very sound. Flew wraps it up defending the coherency of God as an explanation and a few conclusions.
The two appendices are excellent. One is by Roy Abraham Varghese, who helped Flew write this book (Flew was in his eighties at the time), interacting succinctly and powerfully with the “New Atheists” arguments. This alone is excellent and he broke some new ground for me. The second appendix is by N.T. Wright on the arguments for the self-revelation of God in human history through the resurrection of Jesus. Flew doesn’t believe that God has revealed himself in any way (Deist), but he thought Wright’s argument was fascinating and “the one to beat.” While Flew dismissed it as deficient for him at that time, he was still open to the possibility. But again, Wright had a very hard-hitting article for how short it was.
I’m being vague though – it’s better just to read it. It impressed me enough for a 5/5. This is among the top-ten books I’d recommend to anyone (not just eggheads). It’s only a 213 page simple, yet complete, sum-total of the arguments for God’s existence. Before people make definitive decisions about theism and atheism, this sort of book is the minimum that should be read on the pro-God side, and may be all you need for this side (The door-stop books Swinburne and Plantiga write simply cannot be read and understood by everyone… or rather, your average person just won’t). It also won Christianity Today’s book award, so I’m not alone.
It should be noted though, Flew was not a Christian or a believer in an afterlife. Nonetheless, Christians find it useful (not surprisingly), as would Muslims, Jews, Zoroasterians, etc. But really, I think anyone would find it thought-provoking on life’s most important question – is there a God? It’s worth the investigation.
“Progress in philosophy is different from progress in science, but that does not mean it is therefore impossible… To the extent that these things are accomplished with better reasoning and greater effectiveness, progress will be seen – even as consensus and persuasion remain elusive and incomplete.” 41
“I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?’” 88
“Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. 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.” 88-89
“The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and ‘tied together.’ Einstein spoke of them as ‘reason incarnate.’ The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked – and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God.” 96
“Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable.” 112
Introducing Wright’s article: “I think that the Christian religion is one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.” 186-187