Beginning of Wisdom
Vol: 77 Issue: 26 Tuesday, February 26, 2008
For most of the 20th century, the best-known, and arguably most influential atheist in the English-speaking world was English philosophy professor Antony Flew.
The Oxford-educated Flew was the son of a Methodist minister who regularly attended lectures by famed Christian apologist C. S. Lewis.
Although his field was the philosophy of religion, Flew’s reputation as a prominent atheist thinker and apologist with the 1966 publication of “God and Philosophy” and his 1984 work, “The Presumption of Atheism.”
In 2004, at age eighty-one, Professor Flew renounced his belief in atheism with the publication of a new book entitled, “There is a God.”
Flew’s ‘conversion’ was primarily intellectual, rather than spiritual — he didn’t convert to Christianity, but rather, he came to the intellectual conclusion that atheism was unsupportable and that the evidence supported the existence of a Deity.
To a Christian, that doesn’t seem like much of a leap, but the atheist community was scandalized.
In 2006, when Flew joined eleven other British academics in petitioning the British government to teach Intelligent Design, the secular community lashed out.
The New York Times Mark Oppenheimer reported that Flew’s book had been ghost-written by Roy Abraham Varghese and that the book reflected Varghese’s religious perspective — and not Professor Flew’s.
In his article, Oppenheimer characterizes Flew as a senile old man being manipulated and exploited by evangelical Christians for their own ends.
Varghese denied it, but the New York Times seldom allows the truth to interfere with a good story, and the Flew story was no exception.
Finally, Flew himself issued a statement through his publisher, Harper Collins, in which he set the record straight:
“My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 percent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking.”
Flew’s conversion was, as I noted earlier, intellectual, rather than spiritual. Professor Flew changed his mind as a result of what he considered to be hard evidence, not faith.
In an interview following his book’s publication, Flew explained;
“What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements to work together.”
The antipathy of the secular humanist community for their former champion is understandable. Flew’s transformation, in the eyes of his followers, from ‘enlightened thinker’ to ‘demented old man’ was a necessity.
Had Flew simply become a Christian, his ‘conversion’ would have been much easier to dismiss. Atheists don’t view Christians as demented, but rather as delusional, which is both a distinction and a difference.
Christians might be irrationally optimistic, but no intellectually honest thinker would care tp argue that C. S. Lewis was mentally defective.
Christians come to faith as the result of being convicted of their sinful state, which to the secular mind is the same as being motivated by guilt.
A secular thinker understands what ‘guilt’ means, even if he finds the concept of an Eternal Judge irrational. But Flew’s conversion wasn’t motivated by an understandable, if “irrational” sense of guilt.
Flew’s conversion was the consequence of reasoned analysis, based on the otherwise inexplicable scientific evidence of Intelligent Design revealed by DNA research.
That is why his book, “There Is A God” had to be dismissed as either the confused ravings of a demented old man, or as a fraud perpetrated by a manipulative ghost writer.
A Deist is really a rational atheist stripped of both his intellectual comfort level, and of most of his best arguments.
An atheist is convinced there is no God, no heaven, (and especially!) no hell, no eternal accountability and, most importantly of all, in the supremacy of man.
At the end of this life, there is only the certain darkness of the grave. Nothing to worry about. Just a cessation of consciousness.
Deists, on the other hand, have neither the confidence of the atheist, nor the assurance of salvation that motivates the Christian. They arrive at their conclusion that there is an Intelligent Designer behind our existence based on reason, logic and evidence, but refuse to accept the notion of a personal God by faith.
Deists leave the questions of heaven, hell, eternity, etc., to theologians, but in so doing, leave themselves with fewer answers than either atheists or Christians do.
To a Deist “Intelligent Design” can mean anything from a Creator God to space aliens.
The atheist’s insurance is that he is accountable only to himself. The Christian’s assurance is that Christ has made Himself accountable on his behalf.
The Deist has neither insurance nor assurance, just a vague sense of ultimate accountability to some kind of Deity.
It takes little faith to acknowledge what can’t be explained away, but for Dr. Flew, it’s a beginning.
The Bible teaches that the “fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” but that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”