Weighing the Evidence

An Atheist Abandons Atheism

Antony Flew, the 81-year-old British philosophy professor who taught at Oxford and other leading universities, became an atheist at age 15. Throughout his long career he argued — including in debates with an atheist-turned-Christian named C. S. Lewis — that there was a “presumption of atheism,” that is, the existence of a creator could not be proved.

But he’s now been forced to face the evidence. It comes from the Intelligent Design movement, led by Dr. Phillip Johnson and particularly the work of Michael Behe, the Lehigh biochemist who has proven the “irreducible complexity” of the human cell structure. Though eighty-one years old, Flew has not let his thinking fossilize, but has faithfully followed his own dictum to “go where the evidence leads.”

Christian philosophy professor Gary Habermas of Liberty University conducted an interview with Flew that will be published in the winter issue of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and Biola University. Flew told Habermas that a pivotal point in his thinking was when he realized two major flaws in the various theories of how nature might have created itself. First, he recognized that evolutionary theory has no reasonable explanation for “the first emergence of living from non-living matter” — that is, the origin of life. Second, even if a living cell or primitive animal had somehow assembled itself from non-living chemicals, he reasoned it would have no ability to reproduce.

Flew told Habermas, “This is the creature, the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”

Flew has, thus, become a Deist — that is, he acknowledges God as creator but not as a personal deity. In his opinion, “There is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or any transactions between that God and individual human beings.” In fact, he told a group last May that he considers both the Christian God and the Islamic God to be “omnipotent Oriental despots — cosmic Saddam Husseins.”

But a crack is beginning to develop in his opinion that God hasn’t spoken through Scripture. When he reads the first chapter of Genesis, Flew says he’s impressed that a book written thousands of years ago harmonizes with twenty-first-century science. “That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate,” says Flew, “raises the possibility that it is revelation.” A book containing factual statements that no human knew about at the time of writing seems to argue that the authors must have had coaching from the Creator.

The evidence is there for all who will look, as his one-time adversary C. S. Lewis discovered, and as more and more thinking intellectuals are discovering today. So it is that Antony Flew, perhaps the most famous philosopher of atheism, is just a step or two away from the kingdom.


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