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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving Mountains: How an Atheist Came to Believe in God

Many times in our desire to be obedient in sharing the Gospel, we can feel like we're having no effect. We talk with our friends or family members and it seems we're no closer now than years ago when we first started talking with them. They may continue to voice the same objections over and over and it can seem like we're not making any headway at all.

But don't be discouraged; don't give up! God can do miraculous things for those who are faithful to His calling. People you would never have thought to be moving closer to the truth of the Gospel may be affected by your witness - and more than you may know. One incredible example of this is the change in belief of one of the world's foremost atheists.

The Design Argument As Evidence for God

A topic that comes up frequently at Come Reason is the existence of God, and one of the standard arguments we use as evidence for the existence of God is the argument from creation.1 The fact that the universe shows design, planning, and fine-tuning is known as the "teleological argument" for God. The argument is stated, "The universe shows signs of intelligence and interdependence beyond the probability of chance. Therefore the universe demonstrates that it has been designed. And if the universe was designed, then there must be a designer, i.e. God."

Now, this argument has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years2. However, advances in science within the past twenty years have allowed us to better understand just how intricately designed the universe, and specifically it's living creatures, are. This is why the Intelligent Design movement has been gaining so much ground recently. The fact that DNA is an information-carrying system, the concept of irreducible complexity,3 and other discoveries are providing compelling evidence that the universe was indeed designed by a creator.

Dr. Gary Habermas, professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University has been using such arguments in his debates with unbelievers. One of Dr. Habermas' more frequent debate challengers was Dr. Antony Flew, probably the most noted atheist of the last half-century. A professor of philosophy who held positons at Oxford, Reeding, and York Universities, Dr. Flew was an icon to atheists - seen as comparable to C.S. Lewis for Christendom.

Dr. Habermas recounted that he first began debating Flew in 1985. Over the next twenty years, they met several times for debates and functions, developed a friendship, and continued to dialog on the existence of God. As they continued to talk and meet in debates, Flew began to reconsider his staunch atheism. In January of 2004 he spoke with Dr. Habermas and confirmed that he had indeed changed his belief from atheism to theism.4

Following the Evidence Wherever It May Lead

I cannot emphasis enough how significant Dr. Flew's change in belief is. Here we have a legendary figure in atheism, someone who is considered an expert in evolutionary theory and was held up as one of atheism's most intelligent thinkers, abandoning his position for a belief in God! In fact, Flew even bolsters the case for creation. He tells Habermas "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins5 constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself... pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers."6

Now, to be clear, Flew did not become a believing Christian. He classified himself as a deist, along the line of Thomas Jefferson. Still, this is a truly remarkable change. In his book, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Dr. Flew explained his abandonment of atheism as simply the product of examining the evidence:
My departure from atheism was not occassioned by any new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades, my whole framework of thought had been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was never a paradign shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: "We follow the argument whereever it leads."7
Antony Flew examined all the evidence to see where the truth may be found, and it lead him to a Creator God. Unfortunately,  Dr. Flew died just a few years after his change of mind, but the fact that a skeptic who looks honestly at the creation could no longer doubt the existence of God shows just how powerful the evidence actually is.

So, take heart in your discussions with relatives and friends who don't believe. I heard a man explain that truth seems to have a way of always being uncovered. "Relentless reality" he called it. Gary Habermas spent twenty years debating and dialoging on the existence of God with one of atheism's biggest champions and the evidence persuaded him that there is a God. That same relentless reality can pervade the thoughts of your loved ones, too. But it will only do so only if they hear it.

Paul asks in Romans 10 "how can they believe in Him whom they have not heard and how can they hear without a preacher?" Our loved ones need us to preach. They need us to continue learning and growing. They need us to share. So, be encouraged. You might not know it, but your faith may be responsible for moving a mountain of unbelief.

References

1. See the February 2001 newsletter article "How To Know God Exists - The Argument From Design" at http://www.comereason.org/newsletters/feb01.htm
2. The teleological argument goes back as far as Aristotle. For more on this see our audio class "How Scientific Discoveries Show that God Exists" at http://comereason.org/resources/res030.asp#198
3. For more on evolution and irreducible complexity, see my article "Is it more reasonable to believe in Creation over Evolution?" at http://www.comereason.org/sci_bible/sci030.asp
4. Flew, Antony and  Gary Habermas. "My Pilgrimage From Atheism to Theism." http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=33&mode=detail
Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005 (article may be accessed online at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/flew-interview.pdf)
5. Richard Dawkins is a leading proponent of evolutionary theory and author of The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene among others.
6. Flew, Ibid.
7.Flew, Antony. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (New York: HarperOne, 2007). 89.

3 comments:

  1. I appreciate the sentiments, but does this not seem a little bit like confirmation bias? An atheist converting to deism is portrayed as evidence for the Christian god and stated to support the idea that honest, open searching leads to only one truth?
    What then of the countless believers converting to atheism or other religions? Are their searches less open or less honest?
    It seems somewhat more apparent that honest seekers of truth are lead to many different answers.
    We must take care with how we assess the world we live in. Someone converting to my line of thinking is not proof of my idea being correct. That would be an inconsistent philosophy. I would not accept the changing of one's mind to be an inherent truth of anything but a willingness to be open to other realms of possibilities.
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  2. What saves a man is to take a step. And then another step.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Burrello,

    I appreciate your line of reasoning here and you are certainly correct that Flew's conversion to deism doesn't by any means show that the existence of any creator is true or false.

    However, I think the point of Lenny's post here is that from a Christian point of view, one should not give up on discussions with non-Christians because there may just be a time, despite long periods of appearing to have gotten nowhere in the discussion, when the non-Christian may change his/her mind. Lenny's case in point here was Antony Flew, but he made it clear that Flew converted to deism, not Christianity. Additionally, I don't see where it was implied that Flew's conversion to deism implies that Christianity is true.

    Can Lenny's example here be reversed and applied to the non-Christian talking to the Christian ? Sure. I suppose one could generalize the context away from theism/deism/atheism and the point would still be valid, but since this is a Christian blog, it only makes sense that the context would be that of a Christian seeking to persuade a non-Christian.

    ReplyDelete

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