There has been lots of buzz about renowned atheist philosopher Anthony Flew's conversion to theism (though not Christianity). Atheists rushed to claim that he had not really converted or that he had been duped and was now having second thoughts, but those reactions met a buzz saw with the publication of There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, by Anthony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese.
The atheists have shifted tactics and have rallied around an article in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheimer called, "The Turning of an Atheist." In my opinion, the article is rather biased towards the atheists. For example, the author simply outright refers to Richard Carrier as "brilliant" and refers to his "magnum opus" written before getting his doctorate (the relevance of the timing is unclear to me). The Christians, on the other hand, are trying to foster their "scientific proof" of God (air quotes in the original).
The thrust of the article is that these nice, biased Christian authors took advantage of a frail man with a failing mind and are "exploiting" him (perhaps without malice) to promote their agenda. Oddly, when Richard Carrier continues to question Flew aggressively, he is put in a far more positive light as someone truly seeking truth. (Yet another example, in my opinion, of the author's bias). In any event, the suggestion is that Flew did not have much to do with the book, as it was written by its co-author and may lack the intellect to even know what it says.
The article, however, is forced to concede a few things. Flew is a theist now, accepting a God who created though not one who continues to involve Himself in the universe's affairs. Flew was on the receiving end of Carrier's own polemics and other atheists scrambling to change his mind, but in the end has rejected them and staked out his position as a theist. In addition to his work on There Is a God, he has written the British government and requested that they permit the teaching of intelligent design and appeared at a conference at Biola to accept a prize from a group of Christians. While there, he reiterated his theism to the Christian audience but again emphasized that he is no Christian and cannot accept the God of the Old Testament. This does not strike me as the actions of a frail intellect or someone who has been charmed into belief by overly kind Christians who he is afraid to offend.
Victor Reppert, of the Dangerous Idea blog, has provided additional information. He has posted a letter from Varghese that explains more his relationship with Flew, the status of Flew's intellect, and the writing process for There Is a God. Yes, Varghese teed up the original draft, but did so based in large part on Flew's own writings and interviews with Flew:
the substantive portions of the book came from a combination of Tony’s published and unpublished writings (and by the way he still does write) as well as extensive correspondence and numerous interviews with him. I would be happy to share these with any investigative journalist.
Regarding Flew's involvement in the writing process, Varghese states that "Tony edited, corrected and approved at least ten versions of the manuscript."
Moreover, if you are looking to the internet for fair coverage of the back-and-forth, you likely are missing out:
For three years, assorted skeptics and freethinkers have hounded the poor man trying to get him to recant. Believe me, if there was the slightest indication, the remotest suspicion, that he had retracted his new-found belief in God, it would be plastered all across the worldwide web (and beyond). Instead, Tony has taken it on himself to respond to every attack on his intellectual integrity in contributions to publications ranging from a rationalist journal in New Zealand to the latest issue of Skeptic magazine in the UK. The attacks on him are always highlighted on the Internet – his responses are never to be found unless you happen to get hold of the print editions. Not without reason, he now refers to several of the apostles of reason as “bigots”.
I also found interesting the comments on why Flew changed his mind. It was not just a matter of interpreting scientific evidence, but of philosophical issues that Flew is far more qualified to resolve than any of those raising questions about him.
A key point missed by the article is that it is not just or even mainly the evidence from science that led Flew to change his mind. The single greatest influence on him was philosophical – specifically the book The Rediscovery of Wisdom by David Conway. It was not a tug of war between, on the one hand Paul Kurtz and Richard Carrier, and on the other, the theist scientists, with the data from science as the rope. The rope was a philosophical one and here Conway, Richard Swinburne, Gerald Schroeder (in his exploration of the philosophical implications of science in The Hidden Face of God), et al were decisive.
As for his mental state, Varghese states that Flew, though affected by some memory issues and slower than he was in his prime, is the same considered scholar as before:
When he sets pen to paper (as will be seen in the most recent issue of Skeptic), he is as cogent and coherent as you could want (and also as terse as he was in his 1950 article). The only reason why people ask questions about his mental faculties is because he dared to change his mind.
What do I make of this? Well, based on the articles and blog entries and forum discussions I have read:
Anthony Flew's conversion to theism is genuine and the result of an active and considered intellect. It is abiding, not a sudden shift or flash in the pan impulse. Flew has been heading in this direction for a while, by all accounts, and has firmly arrived. Atheists have swarmed him trying to convince him he had been duped, but failed. Having failed to get him to recant, the atheist orthodox are attacking his intellect, unable to admit that a "true" atheist could convert to theism based on reason and evidence. It simply has to be the result of those deviously clever idiotic Christians taking advantage of an old man. What seems to be truly inappropriate, however, is the atheists attacking an "old man" with outright or implied accusations of a failed intellect.
Nothing about the writing of the book "smells" odd at this point. The first draft was based on Flew's earlier writings, his correspondence with his co-author, and interviews with Flew. It is consistent with the many public statements and writings Flew has offered on the same issue. And Flew edited ten drafts before approving it for publication by HarperCollins, a respected publishing house.
So, I suggest that if you are interested in Flew and his conversion, you buy the book and see what convinced him. It might not convince you, but it will likely be an interesting read.
Reppert's latest overview on the situation is worth a read as well.