Yes, He Can Hear You, Now

Yes, He Can Hear You, Now
Vol: 18 Issue: 7 Thursday, January 7, 2016

Antony Flew became the Western world’s preeminent atheist philosopher in 1950 with the publication of what has become a classic work of rational atheism, Theology and Falsification. He argued that any philosophical debate about the Almighty must begin by presuming atheism, placing the burden of proof on those who believe that God exists.

“We reject all transcendent supernatural systems, not because we’ve examined or could have examined each in turn, but because it does not seem to us that there is any good evidence in reason to postulate anything behind or beyond this natural universe,” he proclaimed.

At Oxford, Professor Flew was a member of the “Socratic Club” which convened every Monday evening from 1942 to 1954 under the leadership of C. S. Lewis, (whom Flew describes as “the most effective Christian apologist for certainly the latter part of the 20th century”.)

A key principle of Flew’s philosophy was the Socratean concept of “follow the evidence, wherever it leads”. 

Antony Flew was a supremely brilliant scholar. During World War Two he learned Japanese and served in RAF Intelligence.  In 1942-43 he was a state scholar in Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

After the war, he concentrated on Philosophy, winning an exhibition, then a scholarship, to St John’s College, Oxford. He graduated with a First in Greats and scooped the University Prize in Philosophy – the John Locke Scholarship in Mental Philosophy – in 1948. The following year he was appointed lecturer in Philosophy at Christ Church.

As an undergraduate, Flew had become an enthusiast for the new linguistic analysis approach to philosophy propounded by JL Austin and Gilbert Ryle and, as a lecturer, was considered one of its leading advocates.

Flew’s interests were prolific and wide-ranging, and he applied his linguistic analysis approach to studies of psychoanalysis, psychical research, crime and evolutionary ethics, among other topics.

From Oxford, Flew went on to lecture in Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen University before being appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Keele in 1954. In 1973 he transferred to Reading University, where he remained until taking early retirement in 1982.

Over his lifetime, Professor Flew authored some 23 works of philosophy, including God and Philosophy (1966), Evolutionary Ethics (1967), An Introduction to Western Philosophy (1971),The Presumption of Atheism (1976), A Rational Animal (1978), Darwinian Evolution (1984),Atheistic Humanism (1993) and Philosophical Essays of Antony Flew (1997).

He was at various times a vice-president of the Rationalist Press Association, chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and a fellow of the Academy of Humanism.

In 2001, Flew vehemently denied rumors circulating on the internet that he had renounced atheism, publishing a paper entitled, “Sorry to Disappoint, but I’m Still An Atheist!”

Professor Flew’s lifelong commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads did not end there.

Assessment:

Professor Flew’s rational approach to atheism made him the champion of atheists world-wide.  His paper, Theology and Falsification is reputedly the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the 20th century.

His works are still featured to this day at the atheist website, “The Secular Web” whose slogan is “A drop of reason in a pool of confusion.” 

However, one work not offered for sale is Flew’s final book, entitled, “There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind“.

I’ve been reading it over the past few days, and I understand why not.  In Chapter Ten, at the bottom of page 155, Flew makes this unequivocal declaration:

“I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason. I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept of the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.”

Sadly (for Professor Flew) his conversion was one of reason and not revelation.  Although he concluded from the evidence that God must exist, that is as far as he took it. 

Flew converted from atheism to theism — Flew concluded that God must exist, but he had no faith in a personal God Who cared about Antony Flew.  Flew didn’t come to faith — instead, he lost the faith he had.   

Atheism is a religion, every bit as dogmatic and rigid and intolerant as any other organized religion. That is proved by the reaction of his fellow atheists to Flew’s conversion:

“Skeptics and atheists, on the other hand, made little effort to conceal their contempt. Richard Dawkins characterized Flew’s conversion as a kind of apostasy from the atheistic faith and implied that his “old age” likely had something to do with it.{2} Others suggested that the elderly Flew was trying to hedge his bets, fearful of the negative reception he might have in the afterlife. And Mark Oppenheimer, in an article for The New York Times, argued that Flew had been exploited by Christians and that he hadn’t even written the recent book that tells the story of his “conversion.””

What really changed Antony Flew’s mind?  Flew’s father was a devout Methodist minister. Flew debated C.S. Lewis numerous times without ever being convinced. It wasn’t that somebody presented the Gospel to Antony Flew and the Holy Spirit revealed Himself and Flew underwent that peculiar religious experience we all know as being “born again.”

What convinced Antony Flew where no argument and no apologist, no matter how brilliant, could persuade him, was the evidence from science, pure and simple. Hard evidence.

“But the three items of evidence we have considered in this volume — the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the universe, can only be explained in the light of an Intelligence that explains both its own existence and that of the world.” (There is a God pp 155)

Antony Flew is not the first rational scientist to discover the existence of God.  There is a famous quote by Robert Jastrow,  NASA scientist, astronomer, physicist and cosmologist. 

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

But Antony Flew made it his life’s work to deny the existence of God and ridiculed those who did.  The sum total of his life’s work is an arsenal of philosophical ammunition aimed directly at the heart of God.

Pretty much every atheist with whom I’ve ever debated whips out Antony Flew’s arguments like a gunfighter whips out his gun.

(And they still do, despite the fact that Flew himself has acknowledged he was wrong.)

To my knowledge, Flew never took the next step and never came to faith in Christ.  The last sentence of his book, given the journey he had taken thus far, was one of the saddest endings I’ve ever read.

“Someday I might hear a Voice that says, “Can you hear Me now?”

Professor Flew has his answer.  Antony Flew died in 2010. 

Originally Published: May 5, 2012

Featured Commentary: Bible Archaeology 2015 ~ J.L. Robb

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