Thursday, January 07, 2010

Antony Flew's Change of Mind

Antony Flew, British philosopher, Oxford professor, and leading champion of atheism for more than fifty years, honestly followed the evidence and renounced his naturalistic faith in 2004.

The Sydney Anglicans website hosts this podcast audio discussing and reviewing Antony Flew's book:
• The Big Picture: There is a God - Antony Flew MP3 Audio here.

More Antony Flew posts here. William Lane Craig comments on Flew's change of mind here. Here is an exclusive interview (PDF) Antony Flew had with Gary Habermas. Video of Flew's discussion with Habermas and N.T. Wright and Habermas' debate with Flew can be found here.

Look for Apologetics315's review of Antony Flew's There is a God on Saturday.

Enjoy.

11 comments :

JF said...

Habermas also reviewed Flew's book at the EPS website

http://epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=28&mode=detail

I think Flew also reviewed Dawkins' God Delusion in Philosophia Christi too.

Ex N1hilo said...

Evidentialism scores another convert to deism!

Too bad the cosmological argument is not the gospel.

emmzee said...

Ex N1hilo,

FWIW, it was not the cosmological arugment that convinced Flew (if I remember correctly he still doesn't find that particular argument convincing), rather it was the teleological argument that convinced him.

It's true that, as you say, the cosmological argument is not the gospel. But it sounds like you're insinuating that because the cosmological argument is not the gospel, that it is worthless. (Forgive me if that was not your intent, that's how it seems.)

Well, I should point out that your post on this blog is not the gospel either. Does that mean your post here is worthless? No, it just means that these things are what they are, and not what they are not intended to be.

Before I was a Christian, the cosmological argument was the only reason I believed God existed. Of course, now I believe for different/additional reasons. But it was a step along the path so to speak for me, as I hope it is for others.

Matt said...

I agree that things like the teleological and cosmological argument can be useful stepping stones in acceptance of the Gospel but I think that Ex N1hilo has a valid point that Flew is not a convert, he is simply an intellectual who changed his mind but we often celebrate it as if he is a convert.

Ex N1hilo said...

emmzee,

I do not believe that rational arguments for the existence of God are useless, nor that arguments based on empirical evidences are useless. But they are commonly misused. They are treated as necessary pre-requisites before one can even think about presenting the law of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to unbelievers. Some even teach explicitly, "You must convince unbelievers of the existence of God before you give can them the gospel."

As you have said, the words I posted previously are not the gospel. But then, I am not presenting them as the gospel. Nor am I presenting them as something that must be established in our dialogs with unbelievers before we can give them the gospel. The standard philosophical and evidential proofs for God's existence are presented as the latter by a number of prominent apologists.

A good example is R. C. Sproul, who, in a recent series on apologetics, stated, "I've always taken the position that the starting point of Christian apologetics is the demonstration of the existence of God. If you can get that established at the beginning, the rest is easy. And the approach that I take for establishing the existence of God, as we will see in this course, is basically through rational argumentation."

How can the gospel of Jesus Christ - his sinless life and atoning death, his resurrection and his deliverance of sinners from the wrath of God - be relegated to the status of "the rest" which is "easy" only if one has first used an Aristotelian argument to establish the likelihood that a deity exists?

Likewise, J.P. Moreland has said that you cannot appeal to scripture in a discussion with an unbeliever, since he does not accept it as authoritative. Dinesh D'Sousa has stated that arguments based on the bible have no effect on unbelievers since they do not accept the bible's authority.

These gentlemen speak as though they are unfamiliar with Isaiah 55:11. God promises there that His word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish His purpose. At the forefront of our efforts to present and defend the faith must be the authoritative message of scripture, as it was in the preaching of the apostles.

SteveC said...

Apologetics isnt a "one size fits all" enterprise. Anyone who uses it regularly knows that. The presupositional dogma isnt helpful either.I think J.P. Moreland and R.C. Sproul are fine examples of God honoring apologetics and have more than enough fruit to show for it.

Ex N1hilo said...

Why are these men spending so much time and effort trying to convince people of something they already know? This is a waste of the precious but short time God has given us. Romans chapter one declares that all men know God as Creator and as Judge. That's given. We don't need to demonstrate it. God has already made Himself known to them. Now, we declare His message to them.

The scripture is the sword of God. He has placed it in our hands. We should not waste time arguing with unbelievers about the existence of the sword-maker, or the whether the sword is really sharp, or just a play-sword. Instead, use the sword. CUT THEM. Let them know its power. It WILL have the effect that God has ordained for it. Guaranteed.

Present the fine tuning of the universe as something for which we praise and worship and stand in awe of God, not as a criterion people should consider as they stand in judgment of God, determining for themselves whether the Creator exists or not.

To present it as such is to pander to man's self-deceived, egotistical view of himself as the arbiter of truth. It will produce lots of converts - to deism. Instead, let's give them the truth as presented authoritatively in scripture, and command them to believe and repent.

Look, I'm not saying that evidentialists do not present the law and the gospel. Most do. Thank God they do. But only after they have spent much time and effort shoring up the unbeliever's false opinion of himself as God's judge.

I have tired to be clear because I think this is an important issue. Perhaps an illustration will help express my meaning:

If the presentation and defense of the faith were a meal, creation and the law of God would be the appetizers, the gospel the main course, and things like rational proofs and evidences from nature would be the sweet and fluffy desserts. All laid out before a hungry world and offered freely.

By contrast, evidentialism makes rational proofs and scientific evidences the ticket that must be purchased and punched before one may be admitted to the banquet.

Sam

SteveC said...

Ex N1hilo,
I’m sure you mean well, but this kind of dogmatism over presupositional methods seems unnecessary. I also value that method. It can be very powerful. A great tool, but not THE ONLY tool.

You seem to assume other methods only result in deist converts. That is clearly false. If we observe testimonies of converts who were persuaded by other methods besides yours, what would you conclude? I would conclude that God can use other ways too.

I doubt that people like J.P. Moreland and R.C. Sproul would REQUIRE that a non-beliver first have their “rational proofs and scientific evidences” tickets “purchased and punched” before ever giving them the Gospel.

To say that appealing to other methods “shores up the unbeliever's false opinion of himself as God's judge” is obviously not what is intended by those methods. Nor is it “pandering”. What IS intended, is to take the skeptics doubts and questions seriously, not brush them off because they don’t fit into the presupositional template for apologetics and evangelism. I am happy to use pre-sup. arguments, but if they fail, and they sometimes do, then why not try another approach? Especially if it will bring someone closer to considering the Gospel.

God has used and is using other apologetic methods to bring people to himself. I would think this is something you could rejoice in. I know I do.

Ex N1hilo said...

SteveC,

Please understand that my point in making these criticisms is to sharpen iron. If I come on a little strong, it is because I see the way we approach unbelievers, to present and defend the truths of Christ, as a vitally important topic.

I do not reject everything in the evidentialist or "classical apologetics" approaches. Nor do I accept everything that goes under the label of presupposionalism. There are valid criticisms that can and should be brought against each of the standard approaches to apologetics.

And I understand that what Sproul, Moreland and others are trying to do is to promote and to honor Jesus Christ, and to expand His kingdom. Nonetheless, I bring what I believe to be valid and important criticisms.

I have held these concerns for a good while, but was never vocal about them until I heard a lecture by J. P. Moreland, a few weeks ago. (Apologetics315 has an entry on it here: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2009/12/reconciling-science-scripture-mp3-audio.html.) I was excited to find it, since it deals with science and the scriptures - one of my favorite topics. But what I found in Dr. Moreland's presentation alarmed and dismayed me. I believe that it illustrates clearly some of the serious flaws that plague current popular apologetics.

The presentation is about an hour and a half long. It consists mostly of evidences from the sciences and arguments from philosophy that are presented as supporting the Christian world view. A full hour goes by before Moreland addresses a single passage from the bible. And then, it is to declare that he has no idea what Genesis 1 to 3 means. Because no one can know what it means. The only thing we can be certain of is that those who think the days of Genesis 1 are 24-hour days are "out of their stinking minds. They're crazy."

Dr. Moreland makes a lot of Antony Flew's change of mind. It is because of these sorts of arguments, according to Moreland, that Flew is now very close to being a Christian. Maybe the almost-Christian section of hell is less hot than the rest, I don't know. But I do know that no presentation of the teleological arguement has ever brought anyone to faith in Christ. I'm not saying that it and similar arguments have no usefulness at all. I am saying they are over-emphasized. We expect too much from them.

We ought not to attempt to validate the scriptures by appeal to current scientific theory. That's backwards. We need to test the validity of scientific theories by the scriptures.

And we must present the law and the gospel as Jesus and the apostles did. They did not hang the validity of their teachings on an appeal to big bang cosmology, but on the authority of God's word.

They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.

Rick Landon said...

To some degee, the above debate, strikes me as a faulty dilemma; see Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:15-22, for example.
Here Jesus exposes the motives of the Phairsees as expressed in the question they ask him about 'paying taxes to Ceasar.'
Their motive in posing the faulty dilemma, was to trap Jesus into answering in a way that would either (1) alienate the
masses from him (pay taxes) or identify him as a force opposed to the authority of the civil administration (don't pay them)
He answers in a way that exposes this motive, and this confounds His questioners. His response falls squarely between these
two false alternatives.

The cumulative apologetic method recognizes that the Holy Sprit witnesses to the individual with regard to their personal salvation (Rom 8:16; 1 John 3:24, 4:13). While apologetics saves no one, this is not because there is no proof for the Christian faith, but rather because the lost soul cannot respond to the evidence. The action of the Holy Spirit in giving faith is not apart from the evidence, but along with evidence; and in the first instance consists in preparing the soul for reception of the evidence. Apologetics does not make men and women Christian, but apologetics supplies the systematically organized basis on which faith must rest. The relationship, then, between rational evidence as expressed in a cumulative method, on the one side, and the Holy Spirit on the other is complementary. It is not either the Holy Spirit or the evidence. It is the Holy Spirit working in and through the evidence to convince people of the truth and, therefore, convict them of the relevance, of the Christian faith.

There is both an outer objective dimension (Jude 3; fides quae creditur – the content of faith as revealed by God) and an inner subjective dimension (Eph 2:8-10; fides qua creditur – the faith of the believer that receives and holds the revelation of God) to the process by which one comes to know that Christianity is true. In addition, as one matures spiritually in that Christian faith, one progressively recognizes the interrelationship between these two dimensions.

Ex N1hilo said...

Rick,

We agree that it is the Holy Spirit that gives men faith. I think most christian apologists would agree as well. But, we must remember, the means He has chosen to work through in bringing about saving faith in the hearts of sinners is the preaching of the word of God, and particularly the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is found only in the special revelation of God. Natural or general revelation can and does give us knowledge of God -- as Creator and Judge. But not as Savior. The gospel is not contained in general revelation. It is not even hinted at. Therefore, approaches based on natural theology are of limited usefulness in apologetics. They have some usefulness in reminding us of what we suppress in our unrighteousness; that is, we already know God as our Maker and we fear Him as our judge. (Romans 1) In this, natural revelation affirms what the bible says on these matters. It shows that the unbeliever already knows that what the bible declares on these matters is true.

But if apologetics involves giving the unbeliever the reason (singular) for the hope that is within us, we can only do so by telling them about Jesus. His gospel is the reason for our hope. Our hope is not in a chain of events leading back to God as first cause. It is not in the fine tuning of the laws and constants of physics, nor in the fact that all human beings have a conscience. Hope is found only in the substitionary death of Christ and his victory over sin, death, and hell.

Evidentialists preach the gospel. Of course they do. I have not suggested that they don't. My point is that they tend to over-emphasize the role of natural theology in their presentation. (And some of them conflate current scientific theory and natural revelation. These are not the same thing.) Often they give "the evidence" primacy, when the word of God ought to have the primacy. Evidences from nature and from philosophy cannot serve as the basis of our faith. Our faith is based on the testimony of God about historical events that have happened, and which are recorded in the scriptures.

1 Peter 3:18 (ESV) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

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