33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is a God, but which God
There has been much said about the authorship of this book. Some have attempted to undermine the book by claiming that it was all or mostly written by Varghese, with Flew in a confused state of mind. Flew himself denied this. It also becomes clear in the style of writing as an essay from Varghese is included in the Appendix. It is the inclusion of this poorly thought out...
Published on 28 May 2010 by S. Meadows
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Flew over to the other side... almost.
While the designation of Flew as `the world's most notorious atheist' might be talking him up somewhat, the book charts the eminent philosopher's journey from arguing for atheism to a deistic position. It discusses his previous arguments for atheism and the rebuttals his oponents made, and moves on to the contemporary arguments that persuaded him to change his mind, and...
Published on 27 Mar 2011 by ThingsFindoThinks
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3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Get Into,
This review is from: There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Paperback)I found the book hard to get into. Not that the reading is necessarily hard going, but I found he rambles on and on about this and that. I simply could not get into the story. Maybe it's because he is old, I don't know. I listened to a debate he was in with William Lane Craig (who is a fantastic debater with a very sharp mind) from 1997. He rambled there too. Granted he was old even then but I am not impressed by this guy.
I'm sure the book has been disected in many reviews here, so I won't go into detail again.
That said, this book is a good conversation starter and is of obvious apologetic value to the Christian.
62 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most convincing riposte to Dawkins I have read.,
This review is from: There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Hardcover)As a philosopher and teacher, I have read Flew for 20 years. This book is a measured and readable account that successfully presents a coherent reason why it is possible to embrace cosmology and belief in a 'God'. I use the term deliberately as Flew is not a Christian - he is a Deist. Some atheists who feel betrayed have portrayed this change of heart as the jibberings of an old man. Not only is this attack on his integrity a pathetic slur, it is also far from the man who I have had the pleasure of meeting fairly recently. He was far from senile. The trouble with fundmentalists - and Dawkins is a fundamentalist - is that they cannot embrace anything that contradicts their worldview. This exposes the weakness of their argument. As any philosopher will tell you, Dawkins is an able Biologist but no philosopher. This is said by many agnostic, theist and atheist philosophers. In fact, a former tutor of mine (Phd in Physics and MA in Theology and retired Professor at Oxford) will no longer share a platform with the man and many of his fundamentalist followers- so arrogant and offensive he is to anyone who dares to question his omniscience!
I recommend it to anyone who wants to read an intelligent, thoughtful and moderate response to the question "why is there anything, rather than nothing at all'. The appendix written by the Bishop of Durham is an excellent and compelling defence of Christianity.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Socrates would be proud of him,
This review is from: There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Paperback)Straightforward thinking from a man who has followed the Socratic principle that you should follow the evidence, wherever it leads. For Antony Flew, this has meant going against the popularisers of scientific athiesm, but with clear thinking and logic.
I valued the quotes he had found on the subject from great scientists like Heisenberg, Einstein, Schrodinger, Dirac, Planck & even Charles Darwin.
I enjoyed reading this book.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book of varying quality,
This review is from: There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Paperback)In a spirit of generosity, I am giving this book 4 stars - somewhere around 3.5 stars seems more apt. The reason why its not an excellent book is that its of varying quality. The first third of the book which is a kind of memoir is not likely to be of great interest to those who have not followed Flew's career. However, I suppose it was necessary to some degree to explain why he changed his mind. There again, his change of mind seems to be down to one factor, the increasingly expanding science of cosmology.
For Flew, Cosmology radiates Mind, the very laws of nature woven into the fabric of the Universe shout aloud: "I have been created by a rational Supernatural Mind". The book is particularly good at answering the New Atheists, who, according to Flew, simply are not good at doing philosophy (well, thats cutting to the thrust of his argument): he sees them as impoverished positivists.
I particularly liked the point made about monkeys and typewriters - the idea that Monkeys if given enough time could by chance produce a sonnet of Shakespeare of indeed the complete works of Shakespeare. In term of chance, there is a 1 in 10 to the power of 80 chance of this happening i.e. which is more than the numbers of protons, electrons and neutrons in the whole world.
Anyway, so what are his basic arguments?
I) Nature obeys laws: why is this so, why is the whole Universe law abiding - is not law a manifestation of ratio - can ratio come from inanimate matter?
II) Life itself: why is it intelligently organised and goal driven - and how did life arise from matter. The very gentic code of human being speaks of MIND. Why did sexual reproduction arise - survival of the fitness is not an answer - it merely demands that we ask the question: why is nature purpose driven - why does it "care" where say Human Nature or Elephant Nature survives.
III) The very existence of the Universe and of nature - why does it exist at all? He notes the minute likelihood of us existing at all and further notes that to say that there may be many universes, does not answer the question at all - why are there multiuniverse and why would they obey rational laws
IV) Consciousness which is itself not explicable in terms of matter only i.e. Brain does not equal Mind.
The above reminds me of a comment Christopher Dawkins made in one of his books, namely that it was precisely because it is in Christianity that the world is seen as rational - Christ is the Logos - i.e. reason or mind, that it was in the context of the Western World that science itself burgeoned. There is no point doing scientific experiments at all if there is not an intrinsic logic to the world. Otherwise experiments would tell us nothing - it would all just be chaos.
The appendices are good - I thought NT Wright's arguments for Christianity were particularly rational!
Now, I don't believe for one minute that any of the above will convince Dawkins and Co or his many disciples because it seems to me that there is a strong volitional element to this. For me, the evidence of Mind is extremely strong to suggest a Creator but others will prefer to believe in utter blind chance - we appeared out of some cosmic soup, which itself spontaneously emerged out of nothing. Note here that with the Big Bang theory, Plato's theory of the Universe being eternal no longer seems valid on cosmological grounds. We are not pre-determined - we do have choices and I respect the choice of those who listen to the same evidence and say: "there is no God". I simply ask that they respect my choice and belief that the Universe proclaims the glory of God!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Deist fox in the atheist chicken-house,
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 and honest 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'.
13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The universe, the earth, life and rational man all point to a divine Mind,
This must-read book is outstandingly easy to read, because the author and his collaborators - Roy Abraham Varghese (Preface and Appendix A) and Anglican Bishop Tom Wright (Appendix B) - all write with admirable clarity, but also because the print layout is so easy on the eye, with well-spaced lines and attractive type-face. A model. Would that more authors managed to put their deepest thoughts, like Flew here, in a mere 160 pages (his own text)!
One defect: the book needs an index. To illustrate, it repeatedly discusses Dawkins, but without cross-referencing. Every author mentioned, and every idea and topic, should every time be referenced in an index.
The author's text is divided into two main parts of equal length: the first, an outline of his early slide from the traditional Christian childhood of his time to atheism in his late teens, and an ensuing active `apostolate' in defence of atheism, via a stream of books and various university posts, from his Oxford days (including meetings chaired by C S Lewis!) in the early 1950s through teaching posts in Aberdeen, Keele, various American universities, and Reading, to his 80th year.
Then, at a symposium in New York in 2004, "To the surprise of all concerned, I announced at the start that I now accepted the existence of a God ... when asked if recent work on the origin of life pointed to the activity of a creative Intelligence, I said: `Yes, I now think it does ... almost entirely because of the DNA investigations ... the DNA material ... has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together (pp. 74,5)." He also comments: "You will never get a [Shakespearean] sonnet by chance [monkey keyboard-tapping]. The universe would have to be 10 to the 600th times larger ... (pp. 75-77)."
In 1961 Flew wrote an acclaimed commentary on Hume's Philosophy of Belief. He now says, "I have long wanted to make major corrections to my book ... in the light of my new-found awareness that Hume was utterly wrong to maintain that we have no experience, and hence no genuine ideas, of making things happen and of preventing things from happening, of physical necessity and of physical impossibility (p. 57)." . Flew puts it beautifully: "Hume's scepticism about cause and effect and his agnosticism about the external world are of course jettisoned the moment he leaves his study (p. 58)."
In the second part of his book, Flew outlines the reasons that brought him to belief in a God, a Mind who designed the universe. He stresses that "my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith", as he `followed the evidence wherever it led' (p. 93)." He has (so far) stopped short of identifying this God with the Judeo-Christian God. He says: "The God whose existence is defended by [David] Conway ... and myself is the God of Aristotle (p. 92)."
Nevertheless, he has included, as Appendix B in his book, a 30-page essay by the present Anglican Bishop of Durham, N T Wright, a leading New Testament scholar, who argues that the evidence for the real existence of the Person of Jesus Christ, the solidity of his claim to fulfil in himself all the Old Testament expectations that the God of Israel would visit and save his people, the Christian claim that Jesus is divine, the evidence for miracles and, supremely, the miracle of the Resurrection, provide a solid platform for making the `leap of faith' to belief in Jesus Christ. Introducing Wright's essay, Flew says: "If you're wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat (p.186)."
For reasons of space, I quote Flew briefly: "Science spotlights three aspects of nature that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature (pp. 88,89)." "Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable (p. 112)."
In Appendix A, Varghese attacks the `New Atheists', Dawkins, Dennet, Wolpert, Harris and Stenger. He lists five phenomena that call for a God: human rationality, life and autonomous action, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self which is the center of consciousness, thought and action (pp. 161,162). In brief, these "underlie our experience of the world and ... cannot be explained within the framework of the `new atheism' (p. 165)."
Flew defends the absolute right of the philosopher to critique scientists, on the unchallengeable grounds that the scientist is not always acting merely as a scientist: "When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles - or anything [Flew highlights `anything'] physical - could exist and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking as a philosopher (p. 89)."
When the scientist extrapolates from what he sees under the microscope or in the fossils or in field work, to preach that rational, moral man must have evolved, and actually has `evolved', by exactly the same micro-evolutionary steps as define adaptations within species, he is stepping outside his brief and his competence as a scientist. There is a fast-growing literature pointing out that this `belief' is scientifically and logically unsustainable.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read,
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest,
In the first part of the book, Flew gives a brief account of his academic life, which gives some interesting glimpses at his earlier work. All in all, though, this section is not overly gripping or relevant, serving only to indicate that he is prepared to go where the evidence leads, which is pretty evident from the nature of the book. References to philosophical movements like logical positivism might also put off the less philosophically knowledgeable reader.
When it comes to the reasons for his conversion, he presents the arguments clearly and gives some time to examine counter-arguments, but it's not done in much depth or with much originality. With the First Cause or Cosmological Argument, for example, he fails to tackle whether the universe actually required a cause, and whether it's meaningful to ask about causes, given that time began with the Big Bang. Instead, he just cites the counter-arguments of philosophers like Richard Swinburne, which could be explored much better by actually reading Swinburne's work.
There is also a surprising amount of sloppy thinking for a philosopher. Despite saying in the previous section that we mustn't take scientists' views at face value, as the conclusions are philosophical ones, most of the section on the laws of nature is taken up by quotes of scientists endorsing the idea of a creator of scientific laws, including Paul Dirac, who was, to my knowledge, an atheist.
This is all topped off by sections arguing for the truth of Christianity, written by Roy Varghese and N.T Wright, even though Flew is in fact only a deist and this therefore has little relevance to the rest of the book. All this shows is that Flew's expounding of the arguments which swayed him is wholly insubstantial, so there is room for thrity pages promoting a position which the author doesn't hold.
Overall, the book is disappointingly superficial, and there are better books arguing for God's existence, which aren't taken up by a largely unneeded preamble.
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating,
I'd recommend it. I need to read it again as parts take some careful thinking about.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In defence of deism,
The subtitle of this book tells you where the text is going: `How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind'. I suspect, however, that Richard Dawkins is a much better known and more `notorious' atheist than Flew. The substance of the book is written by Anthony Flew, with an Appendix of critique by Varghese of the new atheism; and a second Appendix giving a response from Bishop Wright to three challenges that Flew had made to Christian fundamentalism in an earlier book, God and Philosophy. The difference in writing styles between Flew and Varghese contradicts allegations that Varghese had to write the book because Flew was senile! Flew was a lecturer and later professor of philosophy who taught at several British universities, including Oxford University, and at York University in Canada. Here, he states his current view as a deist in belief in God but not in any kind of afterlife. Indeed, this book has much of the character of an autobiography.
Whenever writers start defending or criticizing `God' they need to make clear what concept of God they are commenting on. Is it the wrathful and vengeful God of the Old Testament - in other words, are they presenting a defence of fundamentalism regarding the Bible as literal truth? Is it the God of the New Testament uniquely incarnated in Jesus Christ, in other words, a Christian apologetics? Or is it the God of some eastern religious philosophies that regard the divine as cosmic spirit or universal mind - a view increasingly supported by science? Flew makes it clear that his vision is of a deity as Creator and Designer.
`New atheism', used to describe a loose and informal popular movement, is a 21st century term that came into being after a spate of atheist books in the early years of the century - books by Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Dennett and others: as Flew says, these books `themselves read like fundamentalist sermons'. He corrects some of Dawkins' over-enthusiasms, especially Dawkins' contention that `no scientist worth his or her salt believes in God', a statement which is patently untrue. As Flew says, the atheists' case rests almost entirely upon maligning religious beliefs without providing any substantive argument of their own.
Flew's original rejection of the theism of his youth (his father was a Methodist minister) came about, at age of 15 Flew says, largely from `the problem of evil' - a continual thorn in the side of theist belief. As a philosopher, he was later to challenge religious believers (like Bishop Wright) to explain how their statements are to be understood (see Appendix B). In his last atheist polemic, `God and Philosophy', originally published in 1966 but republished in 2005, he raised a very important issue - how is God to be identified. As I said in the paragraph above, this is an absolutely key issue when people are described as theists or atheists. The atheist philosopher J.L. Mackie agreed with theist philosopher Richard Swinburne in describing God as an all-powerful spirit and he maintained that there was no problem in identification.
Flew then goes on to talk about free will. That such exists is demonstrated by the difference between `causes' in the material world, that rationally follow the laws of physics, and `causes' in the human world that frequently produce actions that defy logic or reason - unless we describe emotions as rational causes. Flew's attitude to the `free-will problem' flows very much along the lines of those argued by atheist philosopher David Hume. The basis of Flew's `conversion' to deism is primarily down to the findings of science, especially in the complexity of life. This, Flew believes, indicates the existence of the Creator-Designer God of deism. It is also closely allied to the Infinite Mind of Hindu belief - but it is not the theism of Christianity.
So much for Part I of the book - yes, we're only half-way there yet. If I am not going to write another book of my own here, I think I can say that the main arguments in Part II: `My Discovery of the Divine' I have already summarized without needing to go into further detail. It is essentially a more sophisticated treatment, backed up with scientific discoveries, of the famous `pocket-watch on the heath' argument of William Paley - that the high degree of complexity and cooperation in the natural world, the existence of the laws and forces of nature that make our lives possible, and the favourable environment for the emergence of life and subsequently a conscious humankind, are far too great to have occurred simply by chance.
The rest of the book puts flesh on these ideas, calling on support from scientists and theologians. To summarize, Flew says: `The leaders of science over the last hundred years ... have built a philosophically compelling vision of a rational universe that sprang from a divine Mind' - the arguments of natural theology. This conclusion follows along the lines of Swinburne's, as Flew acknowledges. There is no support for the principles of Christianity in this book. My own conversion from atheism to theism progressed along a similar path over the past few decades. Flew was a brilliant thinker and writer and he refers to several of his atheist publications in this book, including his comprehensive work ,`An Introduction to Western Philosophy', which I would rate at least as good as Bertrand Russell's `A History of Western Philosophy'.
Howard Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God
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There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Roy Abraham Varghese