Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007).

One of my property law professors once complained about legal writers who circle around a point for many prefatory revolutions before making it, like dogs encircling a resting place before laying down. Thus, he would have loved the writing in Antony Flew's (with Roy Abraham Varghese) There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

Surprisingly concise at 158 pages (sans appendices), There is a God gets right to the heart of the matter. It explains the philosophic basis for Flew's changing his mind about God's existence. At its core, Flew now finds the design argument persusive, although he recasts it a bit.

"Perhaps the most popular and intuitively plausible argument for God's existence is the so-called argument from design. According to this argument, the design that is apparent in nature suggests the existence of a cosmic Designer. I have often stressed that this is actually an argument to design from order, as such arguments proceed from the perceived order in nature to show evidence of design, and thus, a Designer. Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God." (p. 95; emphasis in original.)

Notably, Flew characterizes his arrival at this conclusion as "a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith." (p. 93.) He stresses that his "discovery of the Divine has proceeded on a purely natural level, wihout any reference to supernatural phenomena." (p. 93.)

In roughly the first half of There is a God, entitled "My Denial of the Divine", Flew provides his athestic background primarly as an academic and author, and in the second half, entitled "My Discovery of the Divine", he explains how he came to believe that God exists.

Christians, for example, should not be so quick to adopt Flew as one of their own, however. Flew stresses that he makes no claim to "any personal experience of God or any experience that may be called supernatural or miraculous." (p. 93.) On the other hand, Flex repeats an intriguing line: "As I have said more than once, no other religion [besides Christianity] enjoys anything like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. If you're wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!" (p. 157; see also pp. 185-86.) Flew continues: "I think 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." (p. 185.)

In this vein, Flew includes an excellent appendix from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright that succinctly addresses these core questions, "How Do We Know that Jesus Existed?"; "What Grounds Are There for Claiming from the Texts, That Jesus Is God Incarnate?"; and "What Evidence Is There for the Resurrection of Christ?" (pp. 187-213.) Flew responds: "I am very impressed with Bishop Wright's approach, which is absolutely fresh. He presents the case for Christianity as something new for the first time....It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful." (p. 213.)

Accordingly, it's a compelling combination to find two building blocks of the Christian religion in a single, lean volume. Flew outlines the architecture for the existence of God, and Wright sketches it for Christianity. Thus, one doesn't have to go round-and-round with redundancies or irrelevancies--like following a dog encircling his mat--to get to the heart of these crucial inquiries.

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