Anthony Flew and CS Lewis come to God

Anthony Flew

I discuss and compare the journeys to belief of Anthony Flew and CS Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis

Robert B. Stewart, in his “C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith,” describes Lewis’ road back to the faith of his early years:

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.” (My emphasis).

Here is part of Lewis’  reasoned decision to surrender to God; not yet, the Christian God.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. Just how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 45-46).

So far, Lewis is only a theist. This theism, however, is more than just the belief in a supernatural power controlling the world; this power is also personal, because an impersonal force , as far as definitions ago, does not have the foggiest “idea of justice” (Lewis above). 

Compare Anthony Flew, who at the time of his conversion to theism, was the world’s most celebrated and “cerebrated” atheist.” Here is an excerpt from the obiturary column of the Daily Telegraph:

After months of soul-searching, Flew concluded that research into DNA had “shown, by the unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved”. Moreover, though he accepted Darwinian evolution, he felt that it could not explain the beginnings of life. ‘I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature,’ he said.”

Flew went on to make a video of his conversion entitled Has Science Discovered God? and seemed to want to atone for past errors: ‘As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done,’ he said.”

So far, we have two celebrated cerebral atheists whose intellect compelled them to accept the existence of a creator of the universe. In Flew’s case, we’re not sure whether his belief in a supernatural creative force went further than deism, where the creator kick-starts the universe into being with all its constants in place, and then leaves it to its own fine-tuned devices. 

Flew’s obituary continues:

But believers waiting to welcome this most prodigal of sons back into the fold were to be disappointed. Flew’s conversion did not embrace such concepts as Heaven, good and evil or the afterlife – let alone divine intervention in human affairs. His God was strictly minimalist – very different from “the monstrous oriental despots of the religions of Christianity and Islam”, as he liked to call them. God may have called his creation into existence, then, but why did he bother? To that question, it seemed, Flew had no answer.”

In Flew, we have a“God (who) calls his creation into existence,” and then flies off. And that’s why Flew is, indeed, a deist. But why then, as the Telegraph asks, did Flew bother (changing his fine atheistic tune)? What difference did this knowledge make to his “enormously damaging” (Flew above) life, for surely a belief in a deistic god didn’t add an inch to Flew’s moral stature, which he was so concerned about.

Lewis, in contrast, moved beyond theism/deism to a belief in a personal God. Here is Lewis (in a radio interview), The question of God: C.S. Lewis: A Leap in the Dark:

The fox had now been dislodged from the wood and was running in the open, bedraggled and weary, the hounds barely a field behind. The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears to be a moment of wholly free choice. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words, and almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay.”

I felt myself being given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. Drip-drip. And presently trickle-trickle. I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with. I had wanted — mad wish — to call my soul my own. I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”

Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Wait a minute. An “absolute leap into the dark?” (Not about faith in Christ, mind you, but about faith in a personal supernatural being). What then do we make of Robert Stewart’s (see first paragraph):

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.”

There is, granted, no contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap; but there certainly is a contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap in the dark. Whatever way they believed they arrived at theism/deism, the determining factor for both these humanists was their freedom to believe. Whether one is forcefully persuaded, as in Flew or “gives in” as in Lewis, they both, in Lewis’ words, were “given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open.”

Brothers Lewis and Lazarus have been dead and buried for four days, and stinketh by now. Jesus says “Lazarus and Lewis come forth!” Lazarus exercises his atrophied muscles, rolls off the slab, staggers erect and stumbles out the entrance of the opened tomb. Lewis exercises his free choice to rise from the dead, get off the slab and move to the closed door. But look, the door is already open. I could’ve done that myself, says Lewis, but thanks for the gracious help.

As Lewis didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, it would have been hard for me to appeal to what Jesus says in John 6:44:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Like a good Arminian, he believes that Jesus is knocking at the door of his will, and pleading: “Let me in, let me in, please; and if you don’t, it’s curtains – for me.” What does John 6:44 really mean? It means that God enables a sinner to come to him., which does not mean come as far as the moment of decision (shall I or shan’t I believe). No, “coming”means “believing,” And we need his grace to come to Him; that is indisputable.

A major reason why many hate the doctrine of radical corruption – there’s a flower growing out of the navel of Lazarus’ and Clive Staples’ soul – is because “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1-3) implies that a person plays absolutely no part in his salvation, for the obvious reason that the dead can do nothing, not even play a part. Lewis believed and taught that he came to Christ because he wanted to.  But here is the problem, as Charles Spurgeon explains:

The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. You reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer-Did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores and hundreds, nay, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of different opinions, young and old, but it has never been my lot to meet with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself, without being drawn. The universal confession of all true believers is this-”I know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been wandering far from him, at a distance from him, and loving that distance well.” With common consent, all believers affirm the truth, that men will not come to Christ till the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them.”(End of Spurgeon).

In conclusion, Anthony Flew shocked and shook the atheist world because he believed in a prime mover. No one was moved; least of all, perhaps, Flew. But as the Telegraph pointed out, why did he bother? It didn’t change anything for him. And Lewis, caught between the intellectual rock and leaping-off place, opened the door. Both could say “I did it my way.” Flew’s way was to follow the evidence where it leads – which led – ultimately- nowhere. Lewis’ way was “I will to ‘let God be God,’” and willed himself into (a version of) Christianity to boot, a Christianity that undermined the central doctrine of the atonement: the  propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. (See Myths, facts and blood sacrifice: CS Lewis at his best and worst).