Anthony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 222 pages. ISBN: 978-0-06-133529-7
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2009. Volume 27.
Robert Newton Flew was a Methodist minister and Cambridge scholar. From 1927-1937 he served as chair of New Testament Language and Literature at the Westcott House at Cambridge. He was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford in 1930. His work, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology: An Historical Study of the Christian Ideal for the Present Life was published in 1934 and became regarded as the standard work on the subject. In his "Preface," Newton paid tribute to his father, a Wesleyan Methodist minister whose life-work was to influence souls. Newton Flew was elected the conference president of Methodism in 1946.
His only son, Anthony Garrard Newton Flew, was born in 1923 and attended Kingswood School, which had been founded by John Wesley. And yet by the age of fifteen, Anthony had concluded that there was no God. His heart had never been strangely warmed. While he had learned critical investigation from his father, that same critical investigation led Anthony to reject his father's faith - partially because of the problem of evil. While Anthony never discussed his doubts with his father, by the time he was nearly twenty-three, the word had gotten back to his parents that he was an atheist. For nearly seventy years he pursued the philosophy of atheism, denying both the existence of God and the existence of an afterlife.By the time his father died in 1962, Anthony was the leading champion of atheism, having published over thirty philosophical works. Anthony also participated in the Socrates Club, chaired by C. S. Lewis. His first paper defending atheism was presented at the Socrates Club. However, at 84, Anthony said no one is as surprised as he is that his denial of the Divine has turned to discovery. Yet Anthony contends that this does not really amount to a paradigm shift since his paradigm remains, along with Socrates, "We must follow the argument wherever it leads."
Anthony wrestled with such questions as: How did the laws of nature come to be? How did life originate from nonlife? How did the universe come into existence? Since the early 1980s, Flew began to reconsider the evidence. He came to believe that he had arrived at his conclusion regarding the nonexistence of God much too quickly, much too easily, and for the wrong reasons. It seemed to him that those who advocated the cosmological argument were providing scientific proof that the universe had a beginning. An infinite regress does not explain causation. The almost unbelievable complexity of DNA points to the fact that the universe in intricately purpose driven. Faced with the arguments of Intelligent Design, Flew has a new answer to the question "Who wrote the laws of nature?" He has concluded that there is a Divine lawmaker.
Varghese, who coauthored this book, is not impressed with the "new atheism." He references three of the "four horsemen," Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, describing them as sounding like fundamentalist preachers. Their books are fiery and there is no room for ambiguity. It's black and white. Either you are with them all the way or you are with the enemy. Ironically, Dawkins claims that Flew has committed "apostasy." Varghese replied, "It has perhaps never occurred to Dawkins that philosophers, whether great or less well known, young or old, change their minds based on the evidence."
Yet Varghese says the new atheists refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of God's existence and seem unaware of new arguments generated within philosophical theism. Varghese concluded that something always existed. Take your pick: God or universe.
Flew claims that his pilgrimage has been of reason and not of faith. He has not yet made contact with the Divine Mind, but he concludes with the statement, "Someday I might hear a Voice that says, 'Can you hear me now?'"
Does this mean that Flew has been seeking God simply through his own rational process? The biblical doctrine of prevenient grace teaches that God makes the first move. While Flew claims that he has not yet heard from God, perhaps he has a preconceived notion of the voice of God. It is the Spirit of Truth which guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Flew now believes 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. In an appendix, Flew dialogues on this possibility with N. T. Wright, claiming Wright presents by far the best case for accepting Christian belief that he has ever seen.
Flew believes that his father would be hugely delighted with his present view on the existence of a God. I pray that, in God's grace, Anthony will come to know the God of his father. Although he is now old, apparently he has not been able to remain in a state of departure from his training as a child.