Book Review: ‘There is a God’ by Anthony Flew

My monthly review of a wonderful book for those of us navigating the slowmission space between faith and doubt.

There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyable, brief ramble from the former to the probably final state of philosopher Antony Flew’s thinking, particularly about God, and including how he changed his mind from atheism to Deism. It is bookended by a lengthy introduction and an appendix by the actual writer of the book, Roy Abraham Varghese, and another by the biblical scholar of the hour, Tom, or NT, Wright. Flew took care to write, and personally sign, his own introduction.

Here’s a quote, cue unreasoned, buttock-clenching joy from theists and wailing and gnashing of teeth from his former atheist pals:

I must stress that my discovery of the Divine has proceeded on a purely natural level, without any reference to supernatural phenomena. It has been an exercise in what is traditionally called natural theology. It has no connection with any of the revealed religions. Nor do I claim to have had any personal experience that may be called supernatural or miraculous. In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith. (p93)

The ‘pilgrimage of reason’ soundbite could not be more perfectly chosen to delight and infuriate in equal measure.

The book is a good read. The Internet is also a good read, seeing some atheists build a case against the book using the same kind of tactics usually employed by cigarette companies, traffic lawyers, climate-change deniers or creationists, on the lines of ‘the old boy lost it, very sad, and was bundled into the back of a van by evangelicals and forced to sign a script someone else had written for him.’

Actually, the book is clear that Flew became a Deist, and never stopped personally rejecting all the received religions. He didn’t believe in an afterlife. He thought Christianity was the best available religion, but he didn’t claim to embrace it, despite the admittedly gorgeous scholarship of N T Wright. All this is in the book. It’s nice to find good atheist commentators who recognize this, and who agree with the broadsheet obituaries of Flew, not least in the New York Times which put some journalistic resource into investigating the circumstances of the book.

Flew had his marbles and after a lifetime of brilliant atheist philosophical discourse, took to believing that the universe was created by an infinite, immutable, omnipotent, First Cause.

Flew’s widow agreed that that was his position. The jeers and hoots coming from the Theist side may be in bad taste, but perhaps we should be allowed our little moment of fun. Remember, we also have to put up with Creationists and Republicans, and sometimes even have to call them ‘brother’.

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