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on 27 March 2011
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 the ones the didn't.

It's important to note that there has been some controversy with this book. While Flew had already made his change of mind public several years earlier, some felt that Varghese had taken advantage of an old man in mental decline (most notably Mark Oppenheimer's piece in the New York Times). The criticisms have been roundly debunked by a number of people who knew Flew, and indeed, Flew himself offered this clarification:

"I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: "My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I'm 84 and that was Roy Varghese's role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I'm old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.""

While I don't feel the need to defend the legitimacy of the book against the ad hominem attacks, I was keenly aware of these accusations while reading the book. I noticed a distinct difference between the main text of the book and the appendix attributed specifically to Varghese, and for these reasons, I will continue with the view that the positions put forward are the thoughts of Flew unless specifically stated otherwise.

The first part of the book deals with Flew's career and previous positions and arguments, and I found it very interesting, as well as his appraisal of the debates he has had. One of the things that really struck me about Flew is that he is much more generous and willing to engage and interact with those he disagrees with than might be said about the so called `new atheists'. Indeed it would seem that his former allies in unbelief are even unwilling to give Flew anything beyond scorn. Most of the time he does not go into the arguments in any real detail, often summarising his response in one or two sentences.

The second part deals with the arguments which convinced him that there exists a deistic `infinite Intelligence'. The major arguments he cites are `the laws of nature' - that there appears to be a rational intelligence behind the universe; `fine tuning' - that the universe appears to have been set-up for us; and DNA and emergence of life.

There follows two appendicies. The first is an essay from Varghese entitled "The `New Atheism': a critical appraisal of Dawkins, Dennet, Wolpert, harris, and Stenger. In my opinion, the arguments put forward in this section are rather more inferior than the ones put forward by Flew. The second is a dialogue between Flew and N.T. Wright called "The self-revelation of God in Human history" dealing with the evidence for the resurrection. Flew seems to think that Wright puts forward the best case for the resurrection that he has seen, though while being somewhat open to the claims doesn't seem to find them persuasive. I agree that Wright makes a very good case, and the answers he gives to Flew's questions were very interesting, but inevitably Wright fleshes out these issues in greater depth in his own works.

I don't think the book is intended to be an argument for deist belief so much as a chronicle of Flew's journey and thoughts, and in that sense I doubt it will necessarily change anyone else's mind. It is a shame that his opponents resorted to petty ad hominem attacks on someone following the evidence where they saw it to lead. If you're looking for rigorously defended philosophical or apologetic debate, this is not the book for you. If you want to see what a great philosopher thought and how he changed his mind, this is an interesting read.
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on 23 October 2014
When you see that a book on a weighty metaphysical topic such as the existence of God has received 61 reviews on Amazon, it raises a red flag - you have to suspect that many of those reviews have been posted for polemical or partisan reasons by people with very strong views on the central question.

You'd be right in this case - the majority of these reviews have been written by committed theists or atheists, and tell you more about their beliefs than the author's. In light of this, it is perhaps best to consider the book strictly on its merits, without reference to one's own philosophical position. Judged from this perspective, I would still have to say that this is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the question of whether the existence of the world is attributable to a super-intelligent being, and what science and philosophy can tell us about this question. The reason it is essential reading is that it was written by someone who changed his position on the question, and is able to articulate the reasons why. What Flew says in this book is quite simple - that the new evidence that has emerged in the past 30 years about the origins of the cosmos, and dependence of life on very precisely calibrated physical conditions, tends to strengthen rather than weaken the argument for the existence of God. As he says, he followed the evidence and this led him to change his mind. There's nothing wrong with that - in fact, it is precisely what makes the book interesting, whether or not you find these new arguments compelling. Nor is there any evidence that Flew was 'coerced' in any way by his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese, or that he started to believe in God because he was getting old. He is brutally frank in admitting that his conversion to theism was not accompanied by any conversion to belief in an after-life. He just looked at the latest scientific evidence from physics and biology and concluded that it no longer warranted his earlier atheism.

This book is a very good read, extremely accessible and free of scientific jargon.
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on 28 November 2007
After fifty years as a leading non-theistic philosopher, whose challenges to theistic thinkers did much to shape the debate about God, Flew declared himself convinced of the existence of a God (although not of any particular religious tradition) in 2004, thereby sending shock-waves through the atheist community.

Unfortunately, several prominent atheists responded to Flew's apostasy with ad hominem assertions about his losing his marbles in his dotage (yes he is getting slower and forgetful, especially of names; but his solo interviews and writings seem lucid, and his arguments should be taken on their own merit), or about his hedging his bets with respect to the afterlife (despite the fact that Flew doesn't believe in an afterlife!).

Part autobiography, part theistic apologetic, Flew's 'last will and testament' There Is a God (written with Roy Abraham Varghese) is a fascinating read that deserves wide circulation and careful consideration.

Flew summarised the reasons for his change of mind in an exclusive 2007 interview with Benjamin Wiker:

'With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code. The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins' comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a `lucky chance.' If that's the best argument you have, then the game is over... I would add that Dawkins is selective to the point of dishonesty when he cites the views of scientists on the philosophical implications of the scientific data. Two noted philosophers, one an agnostic (Anthony Kenny) and the other an atheist (Nagel), recently pointed out that Dawkins has failed to address three major issues that ground the rational case for God. As it happens, these are the very same issues that had driven me to accept the existence of a God: the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization and the existence of the Universe.'
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on 28 May 2010
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 and scientifically illiterate essay at the end that has resulted in this book getting 4 stars instead of 5. The crass nature of this appendix contrasts with the rest of the book greatly.

The main body of the text is a marvelously honest account of the thinking of a great mind. Detailed philosophy has been as accessible as I ever seen it. The arguments are fine and concise. Each chapter could be expanded into a book in itself, and could certainly be the basis for a debate.

However, be under no illusion: this is not a Christian book. While passing references are made to Christianity, and indeed the second appendix is a typical tour-de-force that we have come to expect from Tom Wright, Flew (at the time of his death) was a Deist, not a Christian. This book is very much focussed on ontology.

Given his earlier position in life as an atheist it is good to see the inclusion of many atheistic arguments contained in this book. These are not straw men, as you may find in many other anti-atheistic writings and present the unbeliever with ammo and the believer with food for thought. Likewise, the second half of the book reverses the roles.
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on 30 December 2007
This is an interesting book which is worth reading for the seond half. Flew effectively points to, among other things, the futility of atheism now that we know that this Universe had a beginning and we have no explanation for how it started. The fact is we do not know what 'caused' the universe and must therefore remain agnostic as to whether it was caused by an 'uncaused' god or some other Physical law we know nothing about. Flew also effecively shows that the theory of relativity and big bang lend considerable credance to the monotheistiic religions notion of an omniscient God who operates outside of space/time. I think it is true to say that the evidence has led us to this point.
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on 21 April 2009
This clear and very readable book charts Tony Flew's journey from strongly expressed atheism to a reasoned case for theism. With wit and good sense he explains and revisits his previous views and emphatically demonstrates his exemplary commitment to follow arguments and the truth wherever it leads. The text has a fair number of amusing anecdotes and personal reflections, and the ideas are neatly expressed and explored with persuasive insight. Flew is very strongly persuaded by many in the field of science who have variously presented views that suggest that the shape, nature and character of the totality of a meaningful reality that we expereince and explore presupposes a meaning and purpose that is transcending. Flew, following a probablistic line of reasoning, makes the case for a theistic rationale without special pleading or flights of mystical fantasy.
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on 4 March 2009
This is a wonderfully presented philosophy of the 'Big Question' - Does evidence lead towards the likelihood of a creator or towards spontaneous undirected self creation of the universe and of course therefore of us, human beings? Flew has admitted to changing his mind although he explains that he always supported the Socrates mantra of going wherever the evidence leads. The style of the writing is erudite and Flew quotes much of his earlier work and explains how his view has changed. There appears to me to be no evidence that it was written by anyone other than Flew or that Flew is in any way senile or demented. I wish that the people I deal with everyday were even a fraction as incisive and logical as Flew is in this book.

Flew's argument for change of mind is based upon new knowledge of cosmology and biochemistry and his reassessment of his opinions based on logical conclusions from that new knowledge. He is to be congratulated on his candour and certainly should not be subjected to the type of personal abuse that he has received (including from some Amazon reviewers). As he states in the book that he does not actually believe in life after death the critical remarks that he is somehow 'insuring against his death' are as inaccurate as they are offensive.

There is of course no compulsion to believe Flew's new theistic belief anymore than his previous atheistic one but he remains an excellent philosopher and writer whatever your viewpoint (including agnosticism).

Whatever you believe, this book covers a wide range of issues connected with this topic that any thinking person needs to consider and provides a lot of meat on the bones. Any open minded person should find it interesting and if they do not agree with Flew's conclusions, they should ask themselves whether their logic is better or whether something other than logic is at work. Self examination of why we hold longstanding beliefs as Flew has done here does us all good, be we theists, atheists or agnostics. (John Stuart Mill's four points on 'Opinion, Truth and Discussion' in 'On Liberty' are very relevant in this regard.)

There is nothing in this book that should cause any vitriolic reaction unless you have the sort of intolerance and totally closed mind that seems (sadly!)to be even more pervasive amongst some prominent and less prominent modern day atheists than amongst the religious extremists that they so enjoy villifying for those same characteristics.
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on 24 June 2014
This so called convert to deism presents some of the arguments for and against the existence of God but each section finishes with some sort of 'leap of faith' statement such as "we are left with no option but to assume that..." when in fact we are left with a range of other options. Ultimately he doesn't explain, any more than any other theist ever has, why a perfect, all-powerful, eternal entity should feel the need to create the Universe in the first place, without that fact meaning that 'God' was not perfect and complete as proposed
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on 19 August 2010
Antony Flew may have been one of the 20th century's leading philosophers, but this account of his journey from atheism to deism is distinctly underwhelming. His case is basically argument from design, but he doesn't have any new perspective on this hoary old argument, nor does he address the equally hoary old objections to it. So just why *did* a distinguished philosopher who was the "world's most notorious athiest" argument-from-design compelling in 2004, when he had found it unconvincing for a big portion of the 20th century? On this, Flew's account is disappointingly silent.

The last part of the book is supposedly a discussion of whether "God" has communicated anything to humankind. Co-author Roy Varghese penned "Appendix A", but like his Introduction, it's just a series of pot-and-kettle attacks on Richard Dawkins and the vigourous evisceration of some rather obvious straw men.

"Appendix B" is billed as a "dialogue" between Flew and biblical scholar (and Anglican bishop) NT Wright on the historicity of the Resurrection. But Flew's side of this "dialogue" consists of exactly three one-line questions which absolutely anyone could have asked, while Wright's side covers 20 pages of text. Engagingly written though it is, Appendix B doesn't really have anything to do with the subject of this book, particularly as Flew himself seems ambiguous on whether or not it presents a compelling case for the Resurrection.

Flew also gives a last-minute, out-of-the-blue endorsement of Christianity. Where this comes from is anyone's guess, since it certainly doesn't follow logically from anything Flew discussed up to that point, and it's supported only by some handwaving that Christianity is the sort of religion an omnipotent being would come up with. I'll leave others to try make sense of that, because I certainly can't.

I don't doubt Flew sincerely came to believe in a distant, deistic kind of "God", but if you don't already find argument-from-design compelling, there's nothing new here which will incline you to share that belief.
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on 12 September 2016
Before this book was published, I had never heard of Antony Flew, so the claim that he was “the world’s most notorious atheist” seems a great exaggeration to me. I have only just read it after coming across a second-hand copy in an Oxfam bookshop.

The controversy over who actually wrote this book, Flew or Varghese, makes it difficult to evaluate. However, there seems to be no reason to doubt that Flew has genuinely changed his mind on the existence of God after carefully evaluating the evidence from cosmology and biology. Much of the book is written in the first person, which certainly indicates that it was the work of Flew himself. It was certainly interesting to read his biographical account of his personal development of philosophical reasoning.

On the whole, I found the chapters; “Who Wrote the Laws of Nature”, “Did the Universe Know We Were Coming” and “Did Something Come from Nothing” convincing; but then I have read both sides of this argument before.

The chapter “How Did Life Go Live?” was less convincing. We do not know how life got going on the Earth, although biologists think they are beginning to understand how it might have happened. The most accepted proposal at the moment seems to be that very simple molecules of RNA developed which were able to both replicate and act as enzymes. However, there is no surviving evidence of how life began – only speculation. The arguments of Flew and Varghese seem to be a mixture of what has been called the “argument from incredulity” and a version of the “god of the gaps”. The key question, it seems to me, is: is the Genetic Code an arbitrary code (like Morse Code) or is there some chemical affinity between the Codons and the Amino Acids they specify? If the former is true, that would suggest an intelligence of some sort formulated the Genetic Code.

Appendix A, on the “New Atheism”, by Varghese was unnecessary. It repeats much of what Flew has said in the main body of the book. Appendix B, on Jesus, by N T Wright, was interesting because it presented some of Wright’s ideas from his massive “Jesus and the Victory of God” and “The Resurrection of the Son of God” in succinct and easily understood form.

Read simply as the account by one philosopher of how he was led by the evidence from atheism to belief in God (but not necessarily in Christianity) this is an engrossing and readable book.
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