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You may have already heard about how the famous atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, converted to deism a few years back. He now has a book out entitled There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Since then both atheists and Christians have reacted in predictable ways. While some Christians crow and flaunt Flew as some kind of trophy, some atheists have suggested that perhaps Flew is going senile in his old age and was simply seduced into becoming the pawn of manipulative Intelligent Design folks.
However, in a recent article at the God’s Politics Blog, Becky Garrison, editor of the religious satire magazine The Wittenburg Door, suggests that both sides are going too far. She suggests that we need to take a closer look at what Flew has actually said. For instance 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.
Garrison goes on to say:

Pick up a copy of Flew’s latest book… 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.

Whether or not you agree with his conclusions (and even as a theist I have issues with some of his arguments myself) I think we ought to respect a man who, even in his 80’s, is still in pursuit of truth and willing to follow wherever he thinks that it leads. It’s disrespectful, I think, to pull the ageism card and accuse a brilliant thinker of senility simply for changing his mind.
At the same time, as a Christian, I find it immensely annoying when fellow Christians make a big deal whenever some celebrity converts. And in this case it’s not like we can really claim Flew as a convert anyway. There is a big difference between Jeffersonian Deism and Christian Theism. It is equally disrespectful of Flew to try and fit him into our own “Christian” boxes and co-opt him for our own agendas (not that I personally agree with the agenda – or the philosophy – of the Intelligent Design folks anyway).
As Garrison asks:

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?

Indeed.