Back in 2004, Anthony Flew, the world's most prominent atheist, stated he believed in God. Since this pronouncement, some of his fellow atheists treat him as though he's gone over to the dark side and literally lost his mind. In a nutshell, they feel this champion of their cause has flown the coop, as it were, and is being used as a pawn by those Christians who need someone of Flew's stature to give weight to the entire Intelligent Design movement. (See The New York Times article, "The Turning of an Atheist").
Nadda, nope, no way. Not so fast.
Let's reflect on what Flew actually said when he came out as a theist. He told The Associated Press that "his current ideas have some similarity with American 'intelligent design' theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life."
As Christine Rosen wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Flew is not quite the crusading convert his book title suggests: He did not embrace Christianity, but Deism. As he told Christianity Today, he feels more spiritual kinship with the skeptical Thomas Jefferson than with Jesus. 'I understand why Christians are excited, but if they think I am going to become a convert to Christ in the near future, they are very much mistaken,' he said."
Pick up a copy of Flew's latest book, There is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, and you'll see that a thinker of his stature can't be painted in simple monochromatic colors. Rather, this biography, co-written by Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese, reveals that Flew's lifelong mantra was to follow the policy of Plato's Socrates: "We must follow the argument wherever it leads." After this preacher's son penned his infamous short paper,"Theology and Falsification" in 1950, he assumed the position as the leading atheist apologist. Later in life, the evidence led him to conclude that the complexity of nature and the origin of life can only be explained by the presence of a super-intelligence.
While we're at it, let's not pull out the ageism card willy-nilly. If the critics are correct that Flew has truly gone "off his rocker," I doubt a publisher of HarperOne's stature would have tackled this project. I'm not about to defend any publisher's entire catalogue but if you skim their offerings, you'll see that except for a few bits of New Thought nonsense, they tend to produce serious scholarship, not shoddy schlock. Furthermore, as I interviewed N.T. Wright for The Wittenburg Door and spent some time with him at Soularize 2007, I can attest that he would not have contributed to this dialogue if he wasn't convinced this was a worthy endeavor.
The flurry over Flew raises this question for me. Why do we feel the need to put the other in a prescribed belief box instead of allowing space to differ and dialogue?
Becky Garrison is the author of The New Atheist Crusaders and their Unholy Grail: Their Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith (Thomas Nelson, January 2008).