Unless you are a professional philosopher or a committed atheist, you probably have not heard of Antony Flew. Eighty-four years old and long retired, Flew lives with his wife in Reading, a medium-size town on the Thames an hour west of London. Over a long career he held appointments at a series of decent regional universities â Aberdeen, Keele, Reading â and earned a strong reputation writing on an unusual range of topics, from Hume to immortality to Darwin. His greatest contribution remains his first, a short paper from 1950 called âTheology and Falsification.â Flew was a precocious 27 when he delivered the paper at a meeting of the Socratic Club, the Oxford salon presided over by C. S. Lewis. Reprinted in dozens of anthologies, âTheology and Falsificationâ has become a heroic tract for committed atheists. In a masterfully terse thousand words, Flew argues that âGodâ is too vague a concept to be meaningful. For if Godâs greatness entails being invisible, intangible and inscrutable, then he canât be disproved â but nor can he be proved. Such powerful but simply stated arguments made Flew popular on the campus speaking circuit; videos from debates in the 1970s show a lanky man, his black hair professorially unkempt, vivisecting religious belief with an English public-school accent perfect for the seduction of American ears. Before the current crop of atheist crusader-authors â Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens â there was Antony Flew.
Flewâs fame is about to spread beyond the atheists and philosophers. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, has just released âThere Is a God: How the Worldâs Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,â a book attributed to Flew and a co-author, the Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese. âThere Is a Godâ is an intellectualâs bildungsroman written in simple language for a mass audience. Itâs the first-person account of a preacherâs son who, away at Methodist boarding school, defied his father to become a teenage atheist, later wrote on atheism at Oxford, spent his life fighting for unbelief and then did an about-face in his old age, embracing the truth of a higher power. The book offers elegant, user-friendly descriptions of the arguments that persuaded Flew, arguments familiar to anyone who has heard evangelical Christiansâ âscientific proofâ of God. From the âfine tuningâ argument that the laws of nature are too perfect to have been accidents to the âintelligent designâ argument that human biology cannot be explained by evolution to various computations meant to show that probability favors a divine creator, âThere Is a Godâ is perhaps the handiest primer ever written on the science (many would say pseudoscience) of religious belief.
Flewâs âconversion,â first reported in late 2004, has cast him into culture wars that he contentedly avoided his whole life.
Read the rest from The New York Times Magazine here. I’ll be commenting on this later.