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How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (and Evidences for the Resurrection)

May 16, 2009

The media seems eager to publish any reports of people losing faith in God, but I haven’t heard anything in the news about the famous Sir Anthony Flew’s about-face. Apparently release of his book “There Is No A God:  How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind ” was even delayed in the secularized country of Britain.

While his opponents (including Richard Dawkins) are claiming he is senile, he now says, “I simply had to go where the evidence took me. It’s Aristotle’s principle. Some of the principles from Intelligent Design were helpful, but the biggest argument was Aristotle’s cosmology.” [ref]

While Anthony Flew has made a complete reversal of his beliefs, he still objects to the central claims of Christianity, namely, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the resurrection.  Anthony Flew used to disagree with Christian professor and apologist, Dr. Gary Habermas, over the existence of God and Anthony Flew has now changed his mind.  Will Flew ever concede that Habermas’ evidence for the resurrection is just as compelling?  The apostle Paul claimed that Christianity was dependent upon historical facts:

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins

(I Cor. 15:17).


Paul also invited investigation into the historical events of Christianity by citing living witnesses:

3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures

5And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

6After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

7After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

8And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time

(I Cor. 15:3-8).

So, even with all the efforts of people like Bart Ehrman to undermine the reliability of the Bible, is there still compelling historical evidence for the resurrection?  I would like to invite you to take some time to watch a lecture given by Dr. Gary Habermas to college students at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on April 11, 2007.

unc_chapelhill_titlebar

In this lecture Habermas presents historical and textual evidence for early, eyewitness resurrection reports.  He does not start with the premise that the Bible is true, therefore the resurrection must be true.  Instead he uses the minimal facts argument – using only evidences that 95% of critics concede. Taking these minimal sources of evidence he argues persuasively for the reality of the resurrection.  Once a skeptic himself, Habermas is now a seasoned defender of the faith who did his doctoral dissertation on the topic of the resurrection at a secular university.  He engages and debates regularly with skeptics.   I think you will benefit from making the time to watch the following lecture (it’s about an hour and a half).   He spends about the first half presenting his case and then he responds to students’ questions in the last half. This is not an exhaustive argument but will provide a good launching point for further investigation.

Historical and Textual Evidence for the Early, Eyewitness Resurrection Reports

Another video I would recommend is the new Lee Strobel documentary “The Case For Faith.”  I saw it on the shelf at my local video store this week and rented it.  In this video Strobel interviews Christians and Biblical scholars who respond to emotional objections to Christianity by answering the two frequently cited objections: “Why is Jesus the only way to God?” and “How could a loving God exist if there is evil and suffering in the world?”  I liked everything about this video except for the brief interviews with Rick Warren.  I’m not sure why he was interviewed for this.  I guess because he is a big name.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2009 3:07 am

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out what this post has to do with “respectful conversations about the Mormon faith”. We too believe in the resurrection, that Jesus is the only way to God, and we also feel we have some answers to the question “How could a loving God exist if there is evil and suffering in the world?”. So perhaps you’re merely wanting to share something you thought we’d all find mutually beneficial?

    If this is another post about physical evidence versus a spiritual witness, then perhaps the last part of my comment on your last post can also apply here:
    Latter-day Saints believe that “spiritual realities are investigated and confirmed first and foremost in a spiritual way, that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, the things of God are known only in and through the power of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11-14)…While there must be an actual physical referent upon which faith is built (a moment in real time, an event such as the resurrection of Jesus, or a set of golden plates), to exercise faith is to believe in the reality of the unseen and to accept as evidence the hope in that which cannot, for the time being, be proven empirically.” (Millet, “Claiming Christ”, p. 131).

    President Gordon B. Hinckley confirmed: “I can hold [the Book of Mormon] in my hand. It is real. It has weight and substance that can be physically measured. I can open its pages and read, and it has language both beautiful and uplifting. The ancient record from which it was translated came out of the earth as a voice speaking from the dust…The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God.” (“Faith: The Essence of True Religion”)

    I really like how respected historian Richard Bushman has put it:
    “I wish I could strike a responsive chord in Christians like you. Mormons wonder why all Christians don’t understand that we believe in the Book of Mormon on the basis of a spiritual witness. It is very hard for a Mormon to believe that Christians accept the Bible because of the scholarly evidence confirming the historical accuracy of the work. Surely there are uneducated believers whose convictions are not rooted in academic knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work?

    “We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journals to find out if the book is still true. We stick with it because we find God in its pages—or inspiration, or comfort, or scope. That is what religion is about in my opinion, and it is why I believe the Book of Mormon. I can’t really evaluate all the scholarship all the time; while I am waiting for it to settle out, I have to go on living. I need some good to hold on to and to lift me up day by day. The Book of Mormon inspires me, and so I hold on.

    “Reason is too frail to base a life on. You can be whipped about by all the authorities with no genuine basis for deciding for yourself. I think it is far better to go where goodness lies. I keep thinking other Christians are in a similar position, but they don’t agree. They keep insisting their beliefs are based on reason and evidence. I can’t buy that–the resurrection as rational fact? And so I am frankly as perplexed about Christian belief as you are about Mormons. Educated Christians claim to base their belief on reason when I thought faith was the teaching of the scriptures. You hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and you follow it….I am a believer and I can’t help myself. I couldn’t possibly give it up; it is too delicious.” http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-hear-good-shepherds-voice-and-you.html

    Hugh Nibley, perhaps the most respected Mormon apologist of the twentieth century wrote: “The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.” (“The World and the Prophets”)

    If we had to base our faith completely on logic, I’d say LDS have a pretty darn good leg to stand on. On the Book of Mormon alone, within just the last few decades, there have been “investigations into ancient literary devices, Hebraisms, name studies, treaty-covenant patterns, word print analyses that focus on single or multiple authorship within the Book of Mormon, warfare, and geography—all intended to establish Book of Mormon antiquity and an ancient meso-American milieu for the narrative.” (Millet). Thus, time and patience are needed in regards to “proving” Book of Mormon historicity. In all fairness, biblical scholars have had centuries.

    Millet goes on to write in “Claiming Christ” that “Latter-day Saints will continue to read and study the Book of Mormon, paying particular attention to the witness of the Spirit that assists us in discerning truth from error, but never relying wholly upon scientific support. While physical evidence may fan the flame of conviction, I refuse to allow my faith to be held hostage to what science has or has not discovered.” (p.133)

  2. psychochemiker permalink
    May 17, 2009 3:28 am

    Clean Cut,
    I’m assuming Jessica posted this so that we could discuss the similarities and the differences. While we all certainly agree about the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to each of us, not all of us believe in infallibility of the Bible.

    Plus, both you and I often reference Ehrmann to dispute some of the non-biblical assertions of Evangelical thought. I thought the most interesting thing about Ehrmann is that the reason he went wrong is because of his assumptions of inspiriation.

    He quite openly posits that a God who wouldn’t protect the text and keep it infallible probably didn’t inspire it to begin with. That’s just a bad, non-biblical, assumption, one that I reject, but one I understand is quite frequent in Evangelical circles. Methods that allow for textual ambiguity, and corruption give us the freedom to recognize God could have (DID) inspire it faithfully even if the transmission may have errors.

    Am I right Jessica?

  3. May 17, 2009 12:57 pm

    I don’t have a problem with Jessica expressing her belief in the resurrection. I don’t have time to watch the videos, but I doubt that Dr. Habermas is saying anything earth-shattering (or I would have heard of it before now). I believe in the resurrection, too, so I don’t feel compelled to construct a rational superstructure for that belief. I’m happy to let it be weird.

  4. May 17, 2009 6:35 pm

    Hi, Jessica. Thanks for posting and sharing. I have been praying for you lately. That our precious Lord would just continue to guide your words, and your steps as you witness in love to the LDS people.

    God bless you my friend!

    Gloria

    p.s. I think it’s wise that from time to time you share posts that are not going to stir up controversy. I am sad to see some who left comments whoa are questioning your intentions. God knows your heart. Keep on keepin on.

  5. May 17, 2009 9:16 pm

    Hi all, thanks for your comments.

    Clean Cut ~

    So perhaps you’re merely wanting to share something you thought we’d all find mutually beneficial?

    Yep, that was part of my reason! :)

    If this is another post about physical evidence versus a spiritual witness

    Yep – you are hitting 2 out of 2 so far! :)

    PC ~

    I’m assuming Jessica posted this so that we could discuss the similarities and the differences.

    Yep! That too! :)

    While we all certainly agree about the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to each of us, not all of us believe in infallibility of the Bible.

    Exactly! And the point of the resurrection apologetics by Habermas is to argue for the historical reality of the resurrection without using the premise of an infallible Bible! It works great for those who don’t believe in an infallible Bible. He uses only the textual evidences that 95% of critics also agree are authentic. Nobody really argues that the Bible is not an ancient book. But even if you just start with that premise and you leave out all the books the critics bring into question, you can still show the reality of the resurrection!

    John C ~

    I believe in the resurrection, too, so I don’t feel compelled to construct a rational superstructure for that belief. I’m happy to let it be weird.

    And I am sharing this out of love for those Mormons who now doubt the reality of the resurrection. I am aware of at least one well-known Mormon (John Dehlin) who (last I heard) denied a belief in the resurrection (correct me if I’m wrong here). I’ve also heard of active LDS who are atheists.

    So, if I’m going to be questioning the LDS paradigm and foundation of personal revelation as a basis for truth, I feel I ought to be providing the alternative that I subscribe to – the historical reality, grounded in facts, of the resurrection.

    With my faith firmly supported by historical facts and evidences I never have to consider that it is a “weird” belief. It’s the most glorious of all events in the history of humankind and my wonderful hope for the future! :)

    Thank you so much, Gloria, for your kind words and prayers. I need them!

  6. May 17, 2009 9:50 pm

    FWIW, one cannot possibly believe in the Book of Mormon and doubt the reality of the resurrection of the Christ. It testifies of the risen Lord, who appeared to his “other sheep” here in the Americas. They felt the wounds in his hands and in his side. And he spoke to them:

    “Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.” (3 Nephi 11:14)

  7. May 17, 2009 10:16 pm

    “I think it’s wise that from time to time you share posts that are not going to stir up controversy. I am sad to see some who left comments whoa are questioning your intentions.”

    Gloria, I think you misunderstood my question. I saw that the post was tagged with “LDS” and “Mormonism” among others, yet I failed to see how any of the OP applied just to LDS and Mormonism.

    I was glad to see a post that “did not stir up controversy”. Are you suggesting that Jessica needs to “stir up controversy” in order to have correct intentions and for you not to be “sad”?

  8. psychochemiker permalink
    May 17, 2009 11:38 pm

    Jessica.
    I liked the presentation, but didn’t pay close attention enough to respond to much of his argument. I did notice that his argument was about finding a probablistic argument, rather than proving beyond a reasonable doubt. He also didn’t disagree with Bart Ehrman’s data, which I thought was good. I’m glad he disagreed with Ehrman’s conclusions, so do I. Thanks for posting these videos and introducing me to this scholar.

  9. May 18, 2009 12:04 am

    Hey! You are very welcome, PC! I’m so glad you liked it! He is a scholar, that’s for sure! I’m glad you disagree with Ehrman’s conclusions as well! As do I. :) I noticed on Habermas’ website that he has another video which includes responses to Ehrman among others, but I haven’t had time to check it out yet. If you saw the Ehrman part, you watched all the way to the end, didn’t you? I’m so glad we agree on some things!!! :)

  10. May 18, 2009 12:30 am

    Hi, clean cut. Nice to ‘see you’ online again. :)
    All I merely stated is that I am glad that jessica from time to time posts things that are not controversial — like this one or the one about worship music, etc. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from having to be on the defensive. Honestly clean cut, I feel so often that LDS are so very defensive about anything said, that one almost feels like walking on broken egg shells.
    I hope that makes sense.
    hope you enjoy a lovely evening,
    gloria

  11. May 18, 2009 2:23 am

    Yes, well, by definition, when an critic of the Latter-day Saints goes on the offensive, I suppose LDS are entitled to go on defense.

    Now, if the egg shells are already broken, I suppose you don’t really have much to worry about. However, as long as the critics’ facts aren’t entirely straight, (or they simply distort the facts according to their own bias) maybe it’s a good thing to feel as if you’re walking on egg shells.

  12. Michael Mattei permalink
    May 18, 2009 2:32 pm

    Jessica,

    Great post. When I’m at home I’ll have to watch the lecture you’ve got linked. I’ve read a couple of Lee Strobel’s books (and I’ve got a couple more on my stack). I particularly enjoyed The Case for the Real Jesus. (The Chapter about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah was particularly fascinating.) He always presents some of the more fascinating minds of Christian scholarship. I haven’t got around to watching any of the videos yet.

    Michael

  13. May 18, 2009 6:29 pm

    Clean Cut,
    The truth can handle being scrutinized. Christianity has been examined, cross examined and critiqued for thousands of years , and it doesn’t offend us. We know the truth can stand up to the cross examination. Do you not thing that Biblical christianity has not gone thru so much more criticism than the fairly modern LDS movement? If you have done much research on the history of all of Christendom, then you would not the answer to be in the affirmative.
    Simply stated, the truth can handle being criticized, and tested.
    I am not sure why the LDS can’t handle some heat from time to time.
    Interesting to say the least,
    gloria

  14. May 18, 2009 6:33 pm

    “Simply stated, the truth can handle being criticized, and tested.”

    Glad that we can agree on this, Gloria.

    Truth will prevail.

  15. May 18, 2009 7:09 pm

    Jessica,
    I can’t speak for John Dehlin. I was unaware of his belief in that area or of rumors to that affect. Regarding atheists in our midst, there may be some, but I’m sure that some probably attend your congregation of choice, too. Folks try to pass as believers for various reasons in various circumstances.

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a foundational doctrine of Mormon belief, as far as I understand it. I believe that the vast majority of the church would agree with me on that. Certainly all of our scripture does.

  16. May 18, 2009 7:10 pm

    gloria,
    I am not sure why the LDS can’t handle some heat from time to time.

    I think what you were going for there is “some” LDS.

  17. May 19, 2009 2:49 pm

    Jessica, do you mind providing a reference or a reason for why you say “I am aware of at least one well-known Mormon (John Dehlin) who (last I heard) denied a belief in the resurrection”? From where, exactly, did you “hear” that. Because I was under the impression that John is a believing and practicing Latter-day Saint. One cannot conceivably be a believing and practicing Latter-day Saint and disbelieve the reality of the resurrection of Christ or of our own resurrection.

    As the LDS Bible Dictionary states:
    “The resurrection consists in the uniting of a spirit body with a body of flesh and bones, never again to be divided. The resurrection shall come to all, because of Christ’s victory over death. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected on this earth (Acts 26: 23; 1 Cor. 15: 23; Col. 1: 18; Rev. 1: 5; cf. Matt. 27: 52-54). Others had been brought back from death, but were restored to mortality (Mark 5: 22-43; Luke 7: 11-17; John 11: 1-45), whereas a resurrection means to become immortal, without blood, yet with a body of flesh and bone.”

    “All will not be raised to the same glory in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15: 39-42; D&C 76), nor will all come forth at the same time (see 1 Cor. 15: 23; Alma 40: 8). Christ was first; the righteous have precedence over the wicked, and come forth in the first resurrection, whereas the unrepentant sinners come forth in the last resurrection (cf. Rev. 20: 5-13).”

    “The N.T. gives ample evidence that Jesus rose with his physical body: He ate fish and honey (Luke 24: 42-43); he said he had flesh and bones (Luke 24: 39); the people touched him (Luke 24: 39-40; John 20: 25-29); the tomb was empty (Luke 24: 2-3; John 20: 1-10); and the angels said he had risen (Mark 16: 1-6).”

    “One of the most fundamental doctrines taught by the Twelve was that Jesus was risen from the tomb, with his glorified, resurrected body, as in Acts 1: 21-22; Acts 2: 32; Acts 3: 15; Acts 4: 33. To obtain a resurrection with a celestial, exalted body is the center point of hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is the most glorious of all messages to mankind.
    Latter-day revelation confirms the reality of the resurrection of Christ and of all mankind, as in Alma 11: 41-45; Alma 40: 1-26; 3 Ne. 11; D&C 76; Moses 7: 62.”

  18. May 19, 2009 7:50 pm

    clean cut,

    are you familiar with the new order mormon movement? (i would link to their website but i’m typing on my palm pilot and don’t know how.)

    there is a growing subset of mormons who are, from all outward appearances, practicing, active lds…but who deny central tenets of the faith, such as the restoration, modern revelation, even christ or the existence of god. they remain involved in the church for family and cultural reasons and strive to maintain a positive relationship with the church.

    it is strange to consider, but personally I welcome everyone at church regardless of their reasons for attending.

    (note i’m not saying that is the situation of john dehlin. I have no idea, and it is not my business. I have enjoyed his mormon stories podcasts.)

  19. May 19, 2009 7:54 pm

    one more comment. I know from conversations i’ve had with jessica is that one of her greatest concerns is ex-mormons going totally atheist. I imagine this post is directed as an outreach to them as much as anyone else…

  20. May 19, 2009 7:55 pm

    Yes, Katie, I’m aware of New Order Mormons. However, my understanding was that John was a TBM–a “believing” and practicing Mormon. That’s why I’m asking Jessica for her specific source.

  21. May 19, 2009 7:56 pm

    I’ve enjoyed his podcasts too, by the way…

  22. May 20, 2009 12:16 am

    Hi Clean Cut,

    Well, I guess I read it on a blog somewhere and I can’t remember where. I tried Googling it just now and didn’t come up with anything. Maybe he will stop by sometime and refute the matter? :) Or I suppose someone could email him and ask.

  23. May 20, 2009 12:18 am

    I know from conversations i’ve had with jessica is that one of her greatest concerns is ex-mormons going totally atheist. I imagine this post is directed as an outreach to them as much as anyone else…

    Yep! Exactly. :)

  24. May 20, 2009 4:28 am

    Okay, Jessica, I found the source, and I stand corrected. I think John Dehlin would probably classify himself as a “new order” Mormon, since he doesn’t quite share the convictions of TBM Mormons anymore. In his podcast “My story part 3–what I do and don’t believe, and why I remain a Mormon”, John admits that he has some “unorthodox” views on Jesus Christ, and thus hopes for the resurrection and goes on faith, but that he doesn’t have a firm conviction. He also admits that the Book of Mormon has been tough for him, believing it to be inspired, but not necessarily historical (inspired fiction?). This would explain why he doesn’t share its firm conviction on the resurrection. Because as I was saying earlier, if you believe in the Book of Mormon you consequentially believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

    Glad to have that question cleared up. :)

  25. May 20, 2009 6:08 pm

    Oh good. Glad we cleared that up. Yeah, from what I’ve seen and read of his stuff I think he’s more in the “new order” Mormon category.

  26. May 20, 2009 6:11 pm

    Wow. I just re-read my comment. I didn’t mean to say “oh good” re: the news. Just glad I don’t have to email him and ask him re: his personal beliefs to substantiate my statement.

  27. Joshua Smith permalink
    July 7, 2010 7:59 am

    I hardly see how ANTONY (not Anthony) Flew was “The World’s Most Notorious Atheist.” I remember having heard his name ten or so years ago, but until this incident, he was scarcely that notorious. His “conversion” happening in 2004 might have something to do with him not making the news five years later when you posted this. And “his” book was almost entirely penned by Roy Abraham Varghese (the articles by Mark Oppenheimer and Richard Carrier are pretty damning on this point).

    Here’s Carrier:
    “Flew openly confessed to Oppenheimer that he didn’t write a word of it. Oppenheimer also confirmed that Flew apparently knows (or remembers) little of its contents and almost none of the authors or works cited in it, despite the publisher’s assurance that he signed off on it (though as Oppenheimer reports, even his publisher confesses doubts about Flew’s ability to remember essential details, and it seems evident now that Flew’s failing memory is clinically serious).”
    (source: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/11/antony-flew-bogus-book.html)

    Anyway, he’s dead now, so the apologists can leave him alone and quit manipulating at least one poor old man (though instead I’m sure they’ll just be vultures at his carcass for five or ten more years).

  28. July 7, 2010 11:50 pm

    Dr. Gary Habermas (the Distinguished Research Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University) was a close friend of Antony Flew’s. He had these reflections upon hearing about Antony’s passing:

    In terms of his total body of work, Antony Garrard Newton Flew was arguably the most able philosophical apologist for atheism–ever. His major works such as God and Philosophy and The Presumption of Atheism are witnesses to his systematic treatment of relevant subjects. We studied his works in our philosophy classes. He was a giant. So it was no surprise that, in recent years, he made the headlines worldwide after announcing that he had come to believe in the existence of God.

    Source: http://blog.epsociety.org/2010/04/christian-friend-reflects-on-death-of.asp

    I think Antony Flew would be very insulted by your assertion that he was “manipulated” by Christian apologists. Even at 87 years of age he was still a very intelligent man with his own opinion. As far as I know he never converted to Christianity and maintained his position as a Deist. If he was merely being manipulated by Christians and didn’t have a thought to call his own why didn’t he become an Evangelical Christian?

    William Lane Craig gave his thoughts on this audio blog regarding Roy Abraham Varghese writing the book There is a God:

    http://www.rfmedia.org/blog/index.php?id=4

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