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My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism - Page 5

Habermas: You have made numerous comments over the years that Christians are justified in their beliefs such as Jesus' resurrection or other major tenants of their faith. In our last two dialogues I think you even remarked that for someone who is already a Christian there are many good reasons to believe Jesus' resurrection. Would you comment on that?

Flew: Yes, certainly. This is an important matter about rationality which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual's consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable for them to see the Fine Tuning Argument as providing substantial confirmation of their belief in the existence of that God.

Habermas: You've told me that you have a very high regard for John and Charles Wesley and their traditions. What accounts for your appreciation?

Flew: The greatest thing is their tremendous achievement of creating the Methodist movement mainly among the working class. Methodism made it impossible to build a really substantial Communist Party in Britain and provided the country with a generous supply of men and women of sterling moral character from mainly working class families. Its decline is a substantial part of the explosions both of unwanted motherhood and of crime in recent decades. There is also the tremendous determination shown by John Wesley in spending year after year riding for miles every day, preaching more than seven sermons a week and so on. I have only recently been told of John Wesley's great controversy against predestination and in favor of the Arminian alternative. Certainly John Wesley was one of my country's many great sons and daughters. One at least of the others was raised in a Methodist home with a father who was a local preacher.

Habermas: Don't you attribute some of your appreciations for the Wesleys to your father's ministry? Haven't you said that your father was the first non-Anglican to get a doctorate in theology from Oxford University?

Flew: Yes to both questions. Of course it was because my family's background was that of Methodism. Yes, my father was also President of the Methodist Conference for the usual single year term and he was the Methodist representative of one or two other organizations. He was also concerned for the World Council of Churches. Had my father lived to be active into the early 1970s he would have wanted at least to consider the question of whether the Methodist Church ought not to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. That had by that time apparently been captured by agents of the USSR.36

Habermas: What do you think that Bertrand Russell, J. L. Mackie, and A. J. Ayer would have thought about these theistic developments, had they still been alive today?

Flew: I think Russell certainly would have had to notice these things. I'm sure Mackie would have been interested, too. I never knew Ayer very well, beyond meeting him once or twice.

Habermas: Do you think any of them would have been impressed in the direction of theism? I'm thinking here, for instance, about Russell's famous comments that God hasn't produced sufficient evidence of his existence.37

Flew: Consistent with Russell's comments that you mention, Russell would have regarded these developments as evidence. I think we can be sure that Russell would have been impressed too, precisely because of his comments to which you refer. This would have produced an interesting second dialogue between him and that distinguished Catholic philosopher, Frederick Copleston.

Habermas: In recent years you've been called the world's most influential philosophical atheist. Do you think Russell, Mackie, or Ayer would have been bothered or even angered by your conversion to theism? Or do you think that they would have at least understood your reasons for changing your mind?

Flew: I'm not sure how much any of them knew about Aristotle. But I am almost certain that they never had in mind the idea of a God who was not the God of any revealed religion. But we can be sure that they would have examined these new scientific arguments.

Habermas: C. S. Lewis explained in his autobiography that he moved first from atheism to theism and only later from theism to Christianity. Given your great respect for Christianity, do you think that there is any chance that you might in the end move from theism to Christianity?

Flew: I think it's very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form: regular religious practice perhaps but without belief. If I wanted any sort of future life I should become a Jehovah's Witness. But some things I am completely confident about. I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam. It was because the whole of Palestine was part of the Land of Islam that Muslim Arab armies moved in to try to destroy Israel at birth, and why the struggle for the return of the still surviving refugees and their numerous descendents continue to this day.

Habermas: I ask this last question with a smile, Tony. But just think what would happen if one day you were pleasantly disposed toward Christianity and all of a sudden the resurrection of Jesus looked pretty good to you?

Flew: Well, one thing I'll say in this comparison is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure, which the Prophet of Islam most emphatically is not.

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